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Joint programs

The joint programs promote and coordinate effective planning, management and sharing of the water and other natural resources of the Basin. It is a unique partnership between the Australian, New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory Governments.

The first agreement was the 1914 River Murray Waters Agreement (the Agreement) between the Australian Government, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It established the water shares for the 3 states and initiated the construction of jointly owned assets – dams, weirs and locks – for water storage, regulation and navigation, and thus enabling the joint management of the river for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses.

Over the years, new joint works and many more river assets have been added. However, the fundamental water shares and joint management arrangements remain in place. The governance arrangements for this collaboration are set out in the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement 2008 (the Agreement).

The joint programs include River Murray operations and natural resource management programs. The natural resource management programs have evolved as a shared response to the need to manage some of the environmental consequences of water use in the Basin.

What is our role?

River Murray operations

We manage River Murray operations on behalf of the partner governments under the Agreement. We:

  • have a work program to operate and maintain infrastructure assets
  • follow documented objectives and outcomes for the operation of the River Murray system
  • operate in accordance with a service level agreement which outlines our responsibilities and obligations.

It is important to note that the construction, operation and maintenance of the River Murray operation assets are carried out by the State Constructing Authorities. The State Constructing Authorities are:

  • New South Wales: WaterNSW and the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
  • Victoria: Goulburn–Murray Water
  • South Australia: SA Water Corporation as the agent for the Minister for the River Murray.

Natural resource management

Activities such as salinity management, environmental monitoring and evaluation, pest fish management and programs such as the Living Murray, are also delivered through state government agencies and organisations.

How are the they funded?

The State Constructing Authorities advise the MDBA of their recommended construction and maintenance activities for the coming year, which is based on an agreed Asset Management Plan. A similar process is followed for the funding of natural resource management activities.

The MDBA works together with the states to determine which activities are required for the coming year for each program, and how these activities should be delivered. 

The MDBA prepares a draft budget, which covers activities over the next 4-year period for approval by the Ministerial Council. Once approved the budget is incorporated nto the MDBA Corporate Plan.

Basin Ministers agree the amounts to be contributed by each partner government and authorise the funding and the activities to be undertaken by approving the Corporate Plan. 

Cost shares principles

The MDBA manages the works that are undertaken across the Basin through the joint program which is funded primarily by the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia ('original parties' to the River Murray Water Agreement 1914).

A fixed contribution is made by Queensland and Australian Capital Territory Governments. The original parties contribute towards the joint program based on agreed principles which determine the cost shares of the annual budget depending on the consumption and benefit derived by each state. This ensures that the contributions by each original party is based on the objective of delivering benefits to the Basin as a whole, rather than a particular state.

Read the cost share principles report.

How are the costs shared?

River Murray operations

Under the River Murray Waters Agreement of 1914, the Australian Government, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian Governments (the asset controlling governments) agreed to equally share the costs of constructing the works, while the costs of operation and maintenance are shared between the 3 states.

The MDBA is responsible to manage the River Murray operations assets on behalf of the asset controlling governments. These assets are critical to the Basin’s irrigated agriculture, the operation of water markets and delivering environmental water.

Some states choose to recover some of their contributions to the MDBA for the joint activities through cost recovery measures (such as fees paid by irrigators). Cost recovery is a matter for each state. The MDBA plays no role in recovering costs from water users.

Natural resource management

Natural resource management activities have historically been funded equally between New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Government. Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory contribute to specific activities that they have a direct interest in.

Where is the money spent?

State constructing authorities undertake the day-to-day management, maintenance and renewal of physical assets. The MDBA oversights the program to ensure consistent asset maintenance and risk management across the program, as well as providing head-office functions such as technical and modelling support and coordinating and directing river operations.

More than 90% of joint program funding is spent on-the-ground across the Basin. River Murray operations employs around 150 full-time employees in the State Constructing Authorities and state agencies in regional locations such as Dartmouth, Albury, Menindee, Mildura, Berri and Goolwa.

Trends in the costs of River Murray operations

The costs can be split into 2 categories:

  • Investigations and construction costs – these include investigating the need for new assets, or for asset renewal or upgrade and undertaking the design, approvals and construction of any works.
  • Operation and maintenance costs – the cost to operate and maintain the assets.

The last decade has also seen substantial new capital expenditure as well as significant investment in new works for environmental watering and a number of dam safety upgrades. Combined, this has created a larger asset base which will in future require an increase in planned maintenance, routine maintenance and operating costs.

Updated: 20 Dec 2021