The Basin Plan

How did this come about?

The Murray Darling Basin crosses state and federal boundaries and was never managed as one system. We have continued to treat the Murray Darling system, including the groundwater of the Great Artesian Basin, as a Magic Pudding, an infinite source of water.

South Australia took the lead in water management reform, introducing [examples] eliminating open trenching and becoming the first state to cap water extraction Paul Harvey

Of all the waters taken from the Murray Darling Basin, South Australia takes just 7%, upstream States take 93% (Diane Bell WET survey)

During the crisis of 2006 – 2013 Diane Bell wrote “the current catastrophe is the result of decades of mismanagement; a failure to work with the irregular flow patterns of the Murray-Darling Basin; government inaction on reports; advisory boards with limited powers re decision-making; a lack of open, transparent and respectful consultation; a lack of accountability; the privileging of certain economic needs over the health of the Murray Darling Basin; a curtailment of open multi-disciplinary research in favour of focused modelling informed by specific technical fields of expertise.” (Diane Bell 2012)

In 2007 the Howard Liberal Government enacted the Water Act ( Its first object is to enable the ‘Commonwealth, in conjunction with the Basin States, to manage the Basin water resources in the national interest.’

The Water Act 2007 established the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) (, a statutory agency responsible for Basin-wide water resource planning and management. The MDBA commenced operation in December 2008, tasked with preparing and implementing a Basin Plan of management to ensure the sustainable sharing of water between all users including the environment. (

The Basin Plan (  was enacted in 2012, with a seven year implementation and review period. Implementation of the Basin Plan will not be completed until 2019.

RLCAG position

The River Lakes and Coorong Action Group welcomed the MDBA’s development of the Murray Darling Basin Plan as the first opportunity in history for coordinated management to achieve a healthy working river system for all Basin users.

We noted the recognition in the Plan of the critical role of the lower Murray, Lake Alexandrina, Lake Albert and the Coorong in indicating and maintaining the health of the Basin system.

We remain concerned that:

  • Environmental health must remain the base indicator for the health of the system as a whole
  • The Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) for the recovery of 2,800 GL of water for the environment will prove to be insufficient. Scientific modelling during the development of the Plan showed that  7400 ?? GL would be needed to maintain the health of the system. The national coalition of concerned organisations, the Lifeblood Alliance, advocated for modelling of 4,000 GL during the development of the Plan
  • The strategy of Adaptive Management adopted by the MDBA may enable the ongoing privileging of economic needs upstream
  • The MDBA may not continue to receive full support of the current Federal Government to implement the Plan in full and on time

What will a successful Murray Darling Basin Plan provide?

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Briefing Paper of August 2011 identified the following key tests for the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan must return enough water to the rivers of the Basin to:

  • Flush out the salt in the Murray River so the water is usable.
  • Keep the Murray Mouth open with an adequate end of river flow
  • Protect and restore the Basin’s key environmental assets and function including the Basin’s 16 internationally significant wetlands.The overarching goal is to achieve a healthy river system. This can only be achieved by maintaining the small fringing wetlands, marshes, floodplains and other environmental assets in good health. The Plan needs to allow for an adequate volume of water to achieve this, not just an adequate volume of water to provide for selected icon sites. The small wetlands are the lifeblood of the system and if they are not allowed to function to their full ecological capacity it will be the death of the system. Examples in South Australia  are  Paiwalla, Swanport, and Martin’s Bend.
  • Halt the decline of waterbirds, fish, red gums and other flora and fauna. Five hundred year old red gums, the Murray cod, Regent parrot and southern pygmy perch are irreplaceable.
  • Prepare the environment so that it copes better during drought
  • Increase frequency and duration of floodplain inundation
  • Reduce blue-green algal outbreaks