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’s share is 1,075GL.

mullaroo creek

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.

To balance socio-economic and environmental outcomes, the Basin Plan allows for changes to water recovery targets through the Sustainable Diversion Limit (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 Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council endorsed the final package of environmental works and measures to be included in the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism in June 2017.

This is an important step in implementing the Basin Plan in a balanced way.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has been progressively modeling the offsets from all projects from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. 

The MDBA will propose amendments to the Commonwealth Minister by 15 December 2017.

In early 2017, the Victorian and NSW governments commissioned an independent Expert Panel to review the offsets mechanism and provide a better understanding of how it works.

The Expert Panel’s report has given the Victorian government the information needed to inform negotiations and to have greater confidence that equivalent environmental outcomes can be achieved.

The report has also helped ensure that the decisions about offsets were based on the best available information, including expert advice.

A summary report is available which provides information about what has happened since the report was submitted.

The Panel’s report is now also publicly available:

The Murray Darling Basin Authority’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. 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.

Victoria is committed to delivering environmental outcomes across the Basin and recognises that higher flows provide environmental benefits. Victoria has withdrawn  the existing Goulburn River constraints project as a supply measure under the Basin Plan because the project was not considered viable as a supply measure - due to the estimated low water savings attributed to it.  Victoria will now develop a new Goulburn constraints project that must be accepted by the community, be feasible and based on improved data and on-the-ground knowledge.

Victoria’s position is that any constraints project will not flood private property without consent, nor will Victoria undertake compulsory land acquisition.

The Basin Plan also allows for an additional 450 GL of water that may be recovered on top of the 2,750 GL target through efficiency measures. The Basin Plan requires that this must result in neutral or beneficial social and economic outcomes. The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council has commissioned independent analysis to look at how this recovery could be designed, targeted and resourced to meet the required neutral or positive outcomes. The advice is expected in late 2017.

The Commonwealth has commissioned Ernst and Young to undertake this analysis. The terms of reference are available on the Commonwealth of Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website. The review will consider the impacts and concerns associated with the recovery of 450 GL including:  the net impact of on-farm efficiency measures on the viability and productivity of irrigation districts; the impact of efficiency measures on employment opportunities in basin communities; the impact of efficiency measures on the temporary and permanent water markets; and consideration of any other information to ensure a comprehensive analysis of cumulative socio-economic impacts. This report is expected in December 2017.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has proposed a number of amendments to the Basin Plan. The Victorian Government has worked with the MDBA throughout the amendments process.

The most significant amendments proposed for the Basin Plan are linked to the Northern Basin Review, which was completed in 2016. As a result of the review, the MDBA recommends that the water recovery target for the northern Basin will reduce from 390 GL to 320 GL. These amendments will need to be passed by the federal Parliament. This change will have no impact on the water recovery task for the southern basin, including Victoria’s share which is 1,075 GL.

Governments and the MDBA have committed to there being no negative impacts on triple bottom line outcomes in the southern basin as a result of the Northern Basin Review. If any negative impacts are identified, they will be addressed by the MDBA as part of the established review processes for the Basin Plan.

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

Achieving environmental targets without buybacks

Victoria has put forward 22 projects to achieve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s environmental targets without the need for further Commonwealth water buy-backs.

The Basin has undergone substantial changes over time with the growth of populations, agriculture, industries, cities and towns.

The changes in land use and flow regimes to meet the needs of Basin communities mean that many floodplains and wetlands no longer flooded naturally.

lake walla walla

While natural flooding patterns can often be restored at the lower levels of the floodplain, it is not possible to reinstate them along the whole river or at higher elevations on the floodplain. Doing so would require vast volumes of water and could cause flooding and damage to regional communities.

However, it is possible to deliver water to targeted high value sites using environmental works. In this way, environmental outcomes can be provided with much smaller volumes of water, used in a targeted manner.

Environmental works include channels, regulators and pumps that deliver water to priority, high value sites to meet the needs of the water dependant plants and animals such as fish, frogs, waterbirds, and red gum and black box woodlands.

Our 22 projects will deliver great outcomes for regional communities with real benefits for local waterways and wetlands along the Murray and its tributaries. These projects will significantly contribute to meeting the requirements of the Basin Plan. The package of 22 projects also includes constraints and rules based projects and an Enhanced Environmental Delivery Project. It also includes completed Living Murray Projects, which are already delivering results. Chowilla Floodplain, Gunbower Forest, Hattah Lakes Environmental Flows, Koondrook-Perricoota Forest Flood Enhancement, Lindsay Island (Stage 1) Upper Lindsay Watercourse Enhancement and Mulca Island Environmental Flows.

Victoria’s supply and constraints projects

Note: some projects are joint with other states
What’s happening
Early 2018Victoria will submit 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

On-ground projects, such as fishways, restoring in-stream habitat for native fish, pest animal or weed control, or floodplain-riverine connections which will assist in securing the objectives of the Basin Plan.

Basin governments are considering how to embed complementary measures in Basin Plan implementation.

ConstraintsLimitations 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 measuresConstraints 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 useTaking 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 WaterWater used to achieve environmental outcomes, including benefits to ecosystem functions, biodiversity, water quality and water resource health.
Offsetssee Supply measures
SDLsee Sustainable Diversion Limit
SDLAMsee Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism
Supply measuresSupply 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 LimitThe 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 MechanismThe 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.
Upwatersee Efficiency measures
What happened?
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.
December MDBA provides its SDL adjustment determination to Commonwealth Water Minister.
MDBA publishes its 2017 evaluation of socio-economic, and environmental, impacts of Basin Plan implementation in the southern Basin.
Victoria publishes the Basin Plan Environmental Report Card.
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 Basin Discussion Paper released, inviting public submissions.
2010 October: MDBA Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan released, 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.