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Sustainable Diversion Limit Reporting and Compliance Framework

The Basin Plan aims to strike a balance between access to water for Basin communities, while also providing water for the environment, for the benefit of all Australians.

This balance will deliver a productive and healthy Murray–Darling Basin. Compliance with the Basin Plan is critical to achieving this, and ensuring that all Australians trust that water is being used in accordance with the rules.

At its heart, the Basin Plan sets sustainable diversion limits, which limit how much water, on average, can be used in the Basin by towns and communities, farmers, and industries, while keeping the rivers and environment healthy.

To ensure water use is within the sustainable diversion limit we are required to establish, maintain and publish a register of the amount of water taken each year in each region across the Basin. The enforcement of sustainable diversion limits commences in 2019, with the first report assessing SDL compliance due to be published in early 2021.

Given water use varies considerably in dry and wet years, the compliance framework will focus on trends over time, as well as any individual water year.

If water use is over the limit, we will investigate and request that Basin state governments investigate further and provide more information under ‘reasonable excuse’ provisions. Reasonable excuse provisions include the operation of the water resource plans, or circumstances outside of a Basin state’s control. Local plans may change as a result, so that the limits can be consistently met in the future.

We will also be monitoring trends in ‘growth-in-use’, which is when water use grows over a period of time. If this growth is consistent, and this causes the limit to be exceeded allocations may need to be adjusted in the future to meet the sustainable diversion limit.

The Sustainable Diversion Limit Reporting and Compliance Framework outlines the approach we will take when reporting and assessing compliance with the sustainable diversion limits.

Roles and responsibilities for managing compliance with sustainable diversion limits

Managing water is a shared responsibility because water is a shared resource. Both Basin state governments and the Australian Government have a key role in ensuring water laws are adhered to.

Basin state governments are the regulators and the frontline for policing water use in the Basin.

Individual compliance with local rules and licences is the responsibility of the Basin state governments. They are responsible for ensuring state compliance systems are effective, and for enforcing the rules, many of which are outlined in water resource plans.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is responsible for assessing and monitoring Basin state compliance with sustainable diversion limits.

The MDBA will work with Basin states to ensure that any potential breaches of sustainable diversion limits are investigated and that appropriate action is taken if water use grows over time and does not remain within the limit. In making these decisions, the MDBA will provide transparent and timely accounts of all water take in the Basin through the establishment, maintenance and publication of the Register of Take. It will report the status of compliance against the limit in its annual water take reports.

The framework is just one component of water managers’ approach to compliance and supports the MDBA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy 2018-21, which sets out how the MDBA approaches its compliance role.