The Murray-Darling Basin Plan formally commenced in November 2012, and is a requirement of the Commonwealth Water Act 2007

The Basin Plan sets limits on the amount of water that can be taken for use from the Basin, known as Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs), which come into effect in 2019. Basin-wide, the sustainable diversion limits are set to recover 2,750 GL of water for the environment. Victoria has agreed to deliver 1,075 GL as its share.

This water will be used to improve the environmental health of the Basin’s rivers, wetlands and floodplains, and the habitats of plants and animals that rely on the river system. We’re already seeing some exciting environmental outcomes for river, wetland and floodplain ecosystems – like recent waterbird breeding events at Barmah Forest.

Environmental watering also has important social, cultural and economic benefits. It has been found to support recreational activities, sustain Country for Traditional Owners, and improve water quality for farmers.

The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism

To balance socio-economic and environmental outcomes, the Basin Plan allows for changes to water recovery targets through the SDL Adjustment Mechanism.

The adjustment mechanism allows for up to 650 GL of the Basin Plan’s water recovery target to be achieved through offsets from projects that deliver equivalent environmental outcomes without the need for more water. Projects may include environmental works and measures, or operational rule changes. 

Just how much the water recovery target will be reduced by – how much offset will be achieved – will be determined by the end of 2017. Water resource plans for surface and groundwater, including five for Victoria, will show how Victoria will comply with SDLs.

The Basin Plan also allows for an extra 450 GL of water to deliver environmental benefits. The Basin Plan requires that any additional water recovery over and above the 2,750 GL water recovery target must  achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes.

Constraints Management Strategy

The MDBA’s Constraints Management Strategy, released in 2013, identified seven key focus areas for investigating the feasibility of options to address constraints to environmental water delivery in the southern Basin. For example, constraints can be eased or overcome by raising bridges to allow higher flows, or by acquiring easements to allow flooding of private land.

Six business cases for constraints proposals have been submitted and are currently being evaluated by jurisdictions. This includes two Victorian projects: Hume to Yarrawonga, in partnership with New South Wales; and the Goulburn. These business cases are investigations only, and no decisions have yet been made about implementation.

Each potential site is dependent on other constraints in the system, and a better understanding of these interactions is needed, as well as overall benefit to the environment. Any relaxation of constraints needs to consider third-party flooding related risks. The government will not intentionally inundate private land without the agreement of land holders.

For more information on the Basin Plan, visit the MDBA website

What’s happening
May Release of Draft Wimmera-Mallee Water Resource Plan.
May - July Public consultation on Draft Wimmera-Mallee Water Resource Plan.
end of June Package of offset projects to be considered under the SDL adjustment mechanism finalised.
October MDBA consults with public about proposed SDL adjustment figure.
Late 2017 (date to be advised) MDBA publishes its 2017 evaluation of socio-economic, and environmental, impacts of Basin Plan implementation in the southern Basin.
December MDBA provides its SDL adjustment determination to Commonwealth Water Minister.
Victoria submits the Wimmera-Mallee Water Resource Plan to the MDBA for accreditation.
Basin states
the states covered by the Murray-Darling Basin are Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, as well as the Australian Capital Territory
Complementary measures Projects that provide environmental outcomes without the need to increase river flows, like managing pest fish, restoring river habitats, and mitigating cold water pollution.
Constraints Limitations on the capacity to deliver environmental water. Constraints may include physical structures, like low-lying bridges, river management practices and river height operational limits.
Constraints measures Constraints measures are activities that remove or ease constraints on the capacity to deliver environmental water. Easing constraints, for example by raising bridges or getting permission to flood people's land, means that more water can be delivered to achieve environmental outcomes.
Consumptive use Taking water from the Basin for uses like irrigation, industry, urban, stock and domestic.
Efficiency measures
Efficiency measures recover and provide more water for the environment by making consumptive water uses, like irrigation, more efficient.
Victoria has implemented a number of water efficiency programs to meet its share of the 2,750 GL water recovery target, but the Basin Plan also allows for efficiency measures to deliver a further 450 GL above that target, for the environment. These 450 GL efficiency measures are often called ‘upwater’, and the Basin Plan requires that they achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes.
Environmental Water Water used to achieve environmental outcomes, including benefits to ecosystem functions, biodiversity, water quality and water resource health.
Offsets see Supply measures
SDL see Sustainable Diversion Limit
SDLAM see Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism
Supply measures Supply measures are works, river operations or rule changes that enable the use of less water but still achieve the Basin Plan's environmental outcomes. Such projects would allow the Basin Plan's 2,750 GL recovery volume to be reduced.
Sustainable Diversion Limit The Sustainable Diversion Limit is the maximum amount of water that can be taken for consumptive use. It takes effect in 2019.
Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism allows the Commonwealth Water Minister, on the advice of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, to adjust the SDL within defined limits to achieve enhanced environmental and socioeconomic outcomes. Supply and efficiency measures projects can lead to an adjustment of the Sustainable Diversion Limit.
Upwater see Efficiency measures
What happened?
2007 September: The Water Act 2007 passes through Federal Parliament.
2008 March: The Water Act 2007 commenced.
December: The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) established, adopting the functions of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.
2009 November: Issues Paper: Development of Sustainable Diversion Limits for the Murray-Darling BasinDiscussion Paper released, inviting public submissions.
2010 October: MDBAGuide to the Proposed Basin Planreleased, inviting public submissions.
Parliament Inquiry into the Basin Plan announced.
2011 June: Victorian Government announces the formation of a Basin Plan advisory group, to include representatives from community, farming, environmental, industry, business and local government groups.
November:MDBA releases its proposed Basin Plan, and a 20-week consultation period commences.
2012 April:The Victorian Government provides its submission to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) on the proposed Plan.
MDBA releases its proposed Basin Plan - A Revised Draft, which contains changes arising from the 20-week public consultation process.
July: Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council provides a formal notice to the MDBA and its comments on the Council's matters of disagreement with the revised draft of the Plan. Along with other Council members, Victoria provides specific comments in a separate notice.