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Northern Basin projects

The northern Murray–Darling Basin includes northern New South Wales and southern Queensland in a complex network of people and places, industries and organisations with many and varied needs.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority conducted a four-year review into the northern Basin that resulted in a 70GL reduction to the 390 GL per year water recovery target in the north, on the basis that the New South Wales and Queensland governments adopted a range of ‘toolkit measures’ with assistance from the Australian Government.  The Basin Plan was amended in 2018 and at the time, the Basin Commitments Package was also announced, with bilateral support for such initiatives.

The toolkit measures or initiatives complement and support the implementation of the Basin Plan which guides how water is managed and used sustainably in the Basin.

The initiatives, along with other activities in the northern Basin, will protect water for the environment, improve compliance with water laws, and create opportunities for local communities, including First Nations. 


The toolkit includes:


The strategic acquisition of the remaining water recovery in the northern Basin

Investigating options to support event-based environmental water delivery

The protection of environmental flows

Improving the management and coordination of environmental water

Addressing system constraints in the Gwydir catchment

Environmental works and measures to promote fish movement and habitat including fishway construction and cold water pollution control.



Basin commitments package

The commitments package will assist to:


Strengthening the protection of environmental flows

Establish a Northern Basin Commissioner (replaced by Inspector-General of the Murray­−Darling Basin)

Strengthen compliance with Basin water laws

Improve outcomes for indigenous people

Address the social and economic impacts of the Basin Plan

Improve confidence in the Northern Basin Review data.


Over the coming years, Basin governments will work with local communities to ensure local knowledge and needs are considered in project design and delivery. Some initiatives have already begun, while others may take many years to complete.

Environmental projects

Initiatives are underway to improve water delivery and water management include moving water through the river system more efficiently to where it needs to be and when it needs to be there.

These projects will include:

  • improved real-time management of environmental water flows (also called active management)
  • coordination and delivery of water for the environment
  • protecting habitats and promoting fish movement (such as fishways)
  • improved mechanisms around storing and releasing water.

These improvements will benefit the northern Basin river system, improve the habitat for animals during dry times, and improve the health of rivers downstream.

Protecting water for the environment

A range of initiatives are being implemented to strengthen compliance with water laws and increase the protection of water for the environment.

It is important that environmental water is protected, so it can be used to support special environmental sites in the northern Basin such as the Narran Lakes, Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir Wetlands.

This water also benefits fish, animals and plants that depend on healthy rivers to feed, nest and grow. The health of the system also underpins production, eco-tourism and community wellbeing

Cultural water

Water is vital to Aboriginal culture, spirituality, identity and wellbeing. Cultural flows in the northern Basin are water entitlements owned and managed by northern Basin First Nations.

Initiatives are underway to support cultural gatherings and the recreational use of rivers, including the recent announcement of a new weir to be built at Wilcannia, to be jointly funded by the NSW and Australian governments.

The Australian Government has committed $20 million over four years to support First Nations to plan and implement cultural water entitlements.

Social and economic initiatives

The Basin Plan is a substantial reform. This reform has impacted on some communities in the northern Basin who have experienced changes in population, economic activity and employment.

Projects are being developed to assist northern Basin communities who have experienced change as a result of the Basin Plan.

Local engagement facilitators will work closely with the Collarenebri, Dirranbandi, St George and Warren communities to identify opportunities to support them during this change.

Northern Basin Commissioner and Murray–Darling Basin Inspector General

An independent Northern Basin Commissioner, Mick Keelty AO APM, was appointed in 2018 as an advocate for northern Basin communities, and to collate technical and scientific information to improve governments’ understanding of the river system in the northern Basin.

In August 2019, the Australian Government announced the creation of a Basin water resources overseer, an Inspector General for the Murray–Darling Basin. This appointment replaces the role of the Northern Basin Commissioner, and will be held by Mick Keelty AO APM in the interim, until filled permanently.

Gwydir constraints project

One of the potential projects in the northern Basin is the removal of constraints in the Gwydir, to improve delivery of water for the environment to the Gwydir wetlands near Moree.

Initiatives may include changes to physical features such as crossings and bridges.

Project design and delivery will involve the local community, led by the NSW government.

Who does what?

  • The states and the Australian government are responsible for developing and implementing toolkit measures.
  • The states, MDBA, Department of Agriculture and other agencies will work together to implement the toolkit.
  • The MDBA will provide advice on all measures and will coordinate a framework for the prioritisation of toolkit measures developed by the states.
  • The Australian Government will provide funding for both toolkit and commitment package measures.


Updated: 09 Dec 2019