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Basin Plan Evaluation 2017

The Basin is a complex, diverse and dynamic system of waterways. It is constantly changing in response to the influences of people, climate and the way water is used for production, communities and the environment. The Basin Plan was introduced to help restore a healthy and productive Basin and will take many years to achieve.

In 2017 – 5 years since it commenced – a review of the Basin Plan’s progress has occurred.

At this early stage of the Basin Plan’s implementation, there are some good signs that the plan is working and on track in many areas. There is evidence of local-scale environmental outcomes with positive ecological responses from birds, fish and vegetation.

Progress was found to be lagging in a few important areas, including water resource plans and compliance regimes – these are being addressed.

The social and economic impacts on basin communities has been assessed and the findings for a number of irrigation dependent communities – presented in community profiles – can be downloaded.

Difficult and challenging work lies ahead to recognise the benefits of the Basin Plan. The Basin Plan is a shared responsibility. Basin governments need to be fully committed and work together to implement the Basin Plan on time and in full.

The Basin Plan Evaluation 2017 considered 3 questions:

Is Basin Plan implementation on track?
What are
the outcomes
so far?
How can implementation be improved?

Implementation on track

The evaluation identified implementation elements that are key to delivering the best outcomes from the Basin Plan. The evaluation has recommended ways to improve the delivery of these elements and other elements of the Basin Plan.

Outcomes report card and recommendations

The evaluation assessed the outcomes from 5 years of Basin Plan implementation compared with what was expected at the time of establishing the Basin Plan. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has also undertaken further social and economic work to better understand the ways in which the Basin Plan has affected outcomes in individual communities.

This research is similar to the work done for the Northern Basin Review and separates the effect of the Basin Plan water recovery from the other drivers of change affecting Basin communities. The findings of this work were released during May and June 2018.


Not as expected

Below expected

As expected

Above expected


Environmental outcomes





Basin governments should continue with full implementation of the Basin Plan by 2024, as the management of constraints, implementation of all aspects of the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism, and protection of environmental water are critical to getting the best possible environmental outcomes.

Water quality and salinity outcomes





The 2020 review of salinity targets should examine the appropriateness of the target at Burtundy. The overall salt export objective should also be revisited in the context of the Basin's variable climate.

Basin scale social and economic condition






Effects of water recovery at the community scale






Social and economic outcomes from environmental water






Outcomes for First Nations communities






Implementation report card and recommendations

The evaluation assesses the progress of implementation on elements of the Basin Plan. While listed individually, in practice they are an integrated set of implementation activities that work together to deliver the intended outcomes of the Basin Plan.


Not started

Started at risk

Started on track



Recovering water for the environment





Basin governments need to urgently complete work to finalise planning assumptions and the associated cap factors to clarify the remaining water recovery task and provide certainty for communities.

Managing environmental water





Basin governments and the MDBA should review Basin Plan reporting to make it more useful for environmental water planning and management.

Maintaining water quality





Basin governments and the MDBA should continue to investigate and analyse data on dissolved oxygen levels and the transfer of organic matter into river systems to develop improved management actions which can help mitigate blackwater events.

Northern Basin and groundwater reviews






SDL Adjustment Mechanism





Basin governments should more closely involve Basin communities in the design, implementation and delivery of the nominated projects to build community understanding and acceptance of the projects.

Water resource planning





Basin governments and the MDBA must redouble efforts and work closely together to get all water resource plans in place by June 2019. Dedicated resources and more efficient and streamlined processes will be essential to meeting timelines.

Transitioning to SDL accounting and compliance





The MDBA and Basin governments must complete the large body of work remaining to develop a robust basis for measuring water take, and transparent reporting on Sustainable Diversion Limits compliance.

Water trading rules





Basin governments and the MDBA must give high priority to identifying and removing unreasonable restrictions on allocation trade, especially in the southern Basin.






Basin governments should adopt the recommendations in the MDBA's Basin-wide Compliance Review, and the Council of Australian Governments should commit to a Basin Compliance Compact to be developed and published by 30 June 2018, with regular reporting thereafter.

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting





Basin governments should continue to support the shift to more evaluative Basin Plan reporting, and ensure Basin Plan monitoring, evaluation and reporting is actively used to improve Basin Plan implementation.

More information

Updated: 07 Dec 2022