On this page:

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) aims to ensure that water is shared between all users and the environment sustainably. It gives all water users in the Murray-Darling Basin a way to work together toward a healthy, working basin.

The Australian Government, alongside the Victorian, New South Wales, South Australian, Queensland and ACT governments, developed a plan that could manage all users' water and the basin’s health. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed into law in November 2012 under the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.

Climate change, drought and other extreme weather events have impacted on the amount of water naturally entering the river system. Humans are also changing the amount and location of water taken from the rivers and waterways. A sustainable plan for water use was needed that protected the health of the Murray-Darling Basin for future generations.

About the Basin

The Murray-Darling Basin is one interconnected system of rivers and the largest basin in Australia. It stretches across parts of Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia. Commonly called the Basin, it has an area of around one million square kilometres.

As the largest and most complex river system in Australia, it accounts for 14% of Australia’s landmass. More than 2.2 million people live in the Basin with 3 million people – or roughly 12% of Australia’s population – dependent on it for their water.

As a key source of water, the Murray-Darling Basin is also Australia’s largest food-growing region. The river system sustains rural towns, farms and communities that drive our thriving agricultural sector.

It meets great cultural and spiritual needs for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Australians. For these people, water is deeply embedded into many traditions and spiritual practices.

Food production and tourism supported by the Murray-Darling Basin contributes billions to our economies. Abundant and diverse animal and plant life rely on this complex system for survival.

It’s a place of recreation and inspiration for many Victorians and Australians alike. With its awe-inspiring landscapes captured in our arts and culture, the Murray-Darling Basin has nurtured our culture and society.

The basin’s health acts as a constant reminder of our connection and dependency on waterways for our livelihood.

The Basin’s importance in Victoria

Precious rivers and wetlands

The Murray-Darling Basin is divided into the Southern Basin and the Northern Basin. The southern part of the Southern Basin covers almost half of Victoria’s landmass.

From the towns of Mildura and Albury down to the south of Seymour and Horsham, and just north of Ballarat, the Murray-Darling Basin in Victoria covers river systems including:

The water flows through Victoria into South Australia, down to the Lower Lakes and Coorong to the Murray mouth at the Southern Ocean.

Wetlands are a critical component of our environment. Some wetlands are recognised as being of international importance (Ramsar wetlands). The Ramsar-listed wetlands in the Victorian Murray-Darling Basin are:

  • Barmah Forest
  • Gunbower Forest
  • Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes
  • Kerang Wetlands
  • Lake Albacutya.

A place of spiritual connection

The Murray-Darling Basin is significant to Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, each with diverse aspirations for water and land management and practices.

The Victorian Government has invested in a range of initiatives supporting Traditional Owners across the state to enable self-determination for water planning, management, ownership and access.

Find out about the Aboriginal Water Program.

Growing food for Victoria and the nation

The Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID)

The GMID is the largest irrigation district in Australia comprising 15,000 properties over 9,950sq km.

The gross value of irrigated agricultural production in the GMID is around $2.1 billion per year representing approximately 24% of the total value of Victorian agricultural production. The main enterprises are cropping, dairy, mixed grazing and horticulture.

Sunraysia Region

In northwestern Victoria, pumped irrigation districts in Mildura, Merbein, Red Cliffs and Robinvale as well as a private diversion from the Murray River are major production areas in the Victorian Mallee or Sunraysia region.

The Sunraysia Region is a large horticultural centre and produces 99.9% of Victoria's dried and table grapes, 99.6% of Victoria’s almonds, 86.2% of Victoria’s citrus fruit and 75.5% of Victoria’s wine grapes. The gross value of irrigated agricultural production in the Sunraysia region is approximately $970 million per year.

Key features in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Sustainable Diversion Limits

The MDBP sets limits on how much water can be taken from this vital basin while keeping the rivers’ healthy. Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) are the maximum amount of water that can be taken from waterways for consumptive use.

Consumptive use can include:

  • irrigation supply
  • town use
  • industrial uses
  • drinking water supply
  • any other future use.

Across the Basin, each of the 29 river catchments and 80 groundwater areas has its own limit. Sustainable Diversion Limits came into effect on 1 July 2019. Before SDLs, each state or territory government could set their own caps on water use.

Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM)

The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism is a way to adjust the SDLs through supply and efficiency measures. Under the SDLAM, the Australian Water Minister can approve the adjustment on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s advice.

Water resource plans

The Basin Plan requires that all Murray-Darling Basin states prepare water resource plans. The plans set out how we will comply with the sustainable diversion limits. The plans detail our water resource management in a clear and consistent way.

Water resource plans are then accredited by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and accredited by the Commonwealth Minister for Water. Once Water Resource Plans are operational, the Inspector-General of Water Compliance is responsible for overseeing compliance with the accredited plans.

Read the Australian Government water resource plans for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Page last updated: 08/09/23