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Governance of water management in the Murray–Darling Basin

Water is crucial to life. Our economy, communities, rivers, lakes and wetlands depend on a healthy Murray–Darling Basin. This means a large number of governments, authorities and agencies, who are responsible for many different communities and interests, are involved in managing water.

Managing water is complex. It is underpinned by a partnership between the Australian Government, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australian, Victorian and the Australia Capital Territory governments.

Key facts

Water in the Basin is managed across four states and a territory, covering one million square kilometres.
Basin state and territory governments manage the water in their own area, in line with nationally agreed principles and plans.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder manages the Australian Government’s water entitlements and allocations of water for the environment.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment recovers water to achieve the outcomes of the Basin Plan.
The Australian Government minister responsible for water accredits the states’ water resource plans, which set the local rules for water use.


The Murray–Darling Basin Authority is a key agency responsible for coordinating how the Basin’s water resources are managed through the Basin Plan, and uses an approach, based on evidence, that considers the health of the Basin as a whole. The aim of the Basin Plan is to ensure that water is shared between all users, including the environment, in a sustainable way.

We use science and research in many fields to make decisions. This includes economics, hydrology, ecology and sociology. We also consider water governance and law and sustainable systems.

People across the Basin are also key for decision making.  Communities share their deep history and knowledge of the rivers and this local knowledge helps guide decisions.

The MDBA uses all the best available information to make its decisions, and adapts water management as new information becomes available.

Roles and responsibilities

Water Resource Plans

Water resource plans set local rules for water and outline how each region aims to achieve community, environmental, economic and cultural outcomes.

assess and recommend for accreditation

Basin states and territory
develop and implement

Water for the environment

Water for the environment is used to improve the health of our rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

plan, coordinate and prioritise at a Basin-scale 

Basin states
plan and implement at a local level 

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder 
plan and implement across the Basin


An effective and fair compliance system will underpin the integrity of environmental water, water resource plans, water markets, and water entitlements.

monitor and enforce Basin-scale compliance

Basin States
implement and enforce compliance locally

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring, evaluating and reporting are critical to ensuring the way water is managed works and is on track.

evaluate and monitor the Basin Plan

Basin States
report and monitor at a local level 

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
monitor water recovery program

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
monitor and report results of water for the environment

Water Markets and trade

Water in the Murray–Darling Basin can be bought or sold, permanently or temporarily.

provide information and enforce compliance

Basin states
implement the rules, including allocating water

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
provide advice on rules and complaints

Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism

The sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism involves a suite of projects that are being developed to ensure water delivery systems are more effective and water losses are reduced.

coordinate, assess and monitor projects

Basin States
propose, design and implement projects

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
fund and implement projects

Recovering water

Under the Basin Plan water is recovered and retained in the system to keep rivers, lakes and wetlands healthy.

Basin states
implement some efficiency programs

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
strategic purchases and efficiency programs

River Murray operations

Infrastructure such as dams and levees are developed, maintained and operated to store water and allow flows to occur.

Operate and manage the River Murray

Basin states
day-to-day management of dams, locks, weirs and barrages


Updated: 15 Sep 2020