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Prerequisite policy measures

Water entitlements for the environment are used by environmental water holders to improve the health of our rivers, wetlands and floodplains and the plants and animals who depend on these for their survival. They are now a permanent part of water management in the Basin.

Prerequisite policy measures are legislative and operational rule changes that will improve the use and accounting of water for the environment in the southern-connected Murray–Darling Basin.

In the northern Basin, improved arrangements for using environmental water will occur through the ‘toolkit measures’ and other northern Basin initiatives.

These policy measures will ensure there are secure and enduring water management arrangements for the efficient and effective use of water for the environment, and will provide greater flexibility in how this water can be used.

The policy measures include:

  • Instruments that account for and protect ‘return flows’ of water for the environment: A portion of the water used in an environmental event may return to the river as a ‘return flow’. The changes will account for these flows, allowing the water to be protected through crediting arrangements, and used for environmental purposes downstream.
  • Instruments that allow ‘piggybacking’ on unregulated events: This means water for the environment can be released on top of other unregulated flows such as natural flooding. Environmental water holders will also be able to specify which storage, or dam, their water order is delivered from. As a result important environmental outcomes can be achieved through piggybacking on an unregulated event while the water is travelling to its planned destination, making the best use of water available for the environment.

Implementation of these policy measures must ensure that reliability of water for entitlements is not adversely affected.

These measures can be made through:

  • state legislative changes
  • amendments to local water sharing plans
  • changes to regulations and operational manuals
  • the new water resource plans.
Policy measures must be in effect by 30 June 2019. At that point in time, states will need to demonstrate that water for the environment can piggyback on an unregulated event, and be re-credited, to ensure the planned outcomes are achieved.

These measures are adaptable. A forward work program of appropriate review and refinement will ensure the continued improvement of the efficient and effective use of water for the environment.

Roles and responsibilities

The New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian state governments are responsible for:

  • developing and implementing the policy measures including consultation with environmental water holders, river operators and other stakeholders.

The MDBA is responsible for:

  • coordinating the implementation of the measures for the River Murray, on behalf of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

The MDBA also plays a key role in monitoring the integrity of the policy measures and is responsible for assessing their implementation. Assessment is against the requirements included in the Basin Plan.

Members of the Independent River Operations Review Group will undertake an independent review of the assessment.

Implementing and assessing prerequisite policy measures

New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia submitted implementation plans in 2016-17 to outline their proposed implementation of measures to meet Basin Plan requirements. The MDBA endorsed these plans and the measures outlined in them.

Since this time, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian state governments have been working to implement the measures, and have each used various approaches to consult their stakeholders.

From March‒June 2019, the MDBA will assess the implementation of the measures. Further refinements of the policy settings will then continue as part of the adaptive management approach to improving environmental water arrangements in the Basin.

The stages of the process are:

  • Consult and implement
  • Assess
  • Confirmation of final arrangements where appropriate
  • Fully operational
  • Forward work plan for refinement and improvement.

Implementation progress-to-date

Key dates


Progress status


Consultation commences and states begin drafting documentation


Nov 2018– Jan 2019

Review of NSW, VIC and SA first draft documentation by the MDBA commences


Feb–May 2019

States formally submit documentation to the MDBA for assessment

In progress

Mar–June 2019

Formal assessment phase including Independent assurance

In progress

By 30 June 2019

Determination – final phase