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2017 Basin Plan Evaluation findings

The Basin Plan Evaluation has considered a range of information and data in making its assessment of the Basin Plan. The Evaluation covered environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes seen so far, and whether these outcomes are in line with what was expected 5 years ago.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has undertaken further social and economic work to understand the contribution of the Basin Plan to the outcomes in irrigation-dependent communities. This research is similar to the work done for the Northern Basin Review and separates the effect of Basin Plan water recovery from the other drivers of change affecting Basin communities. The findings of this work were released in May and June 2018.

Social and economic outcomes

Towns and rural communities

There have been population, demographic, and employment changes in towns across the Basin. Despite Basin Plan water recovery, the Basin's economy has continued to grow in line with expectations.

Population growth is occurring in larger regional centres, while there is population decline in smaller communities

At the community level the impacts of water recovery have been different – some have had little impact, some have adapted and grown, and some have found the transition difficult.

Water and people

In some places, there are early signs that healthy rivers and lakes can provide benefits to tourism and recreation. These benefits are expected to grow as implementation continues.

On-farm infrastructure investments

Investments in on-farm water savings have been shared between irrigators and the environment. This has helped minimise the impact of water recovery on irrigated industries and communities, and modernised irrigation networks.

Irrigation trends

Despite Basin Plan water recovery, irrigated agriculture has remained a significant economic contributor to the Basin, valued at around $7 billion per year.

First Nations outcomes

Traditional Owners are increasingly involved in a range of water planning and management activities to get better social and cultural outcomes from Basin Plan implementation.

Environmental outcomes

Environmental change takes time

A damaged ecosystem takes decades to revive. Where there is available information, early signs indicate the Basin Plan is on track to deliver long-term environmental outcomes.

Waterbird numbers

Over several decades, waterbird numbers have declined by 70%. Five years into implementation of the Basin Plan the rate of decline has reduced.

Improving fish populations

Native fish have responded positively to environmental water. It has been used to support endangered Murray hardyhead populations; ensure golden perch can move to suitable habitats; and has supported an increase in Murray cod breeding.

Changes to vegetation ecosystems

There are early signs of positive responses of native vegetation to water delivered under the Basin Plan, such as growth of seedlings and saplings, and improvement in the condition of some river red gum forests.

Implementation outcomes

Water recovery

Of the original 2,750 GL target 77% has been recovered. Combined with the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment outcome, water recovery is nearly complete in most regions. The amount of buybacks has been less than originally expected.


At risk Basin governments must do more to increase the robustness, transparency and consistency of compliance. This will give communities greater confidence in the Basin Plan.

Sustainable diversion limit transition

At risk There is a transition period between the 'Cap' system and 'Sustainable Diversion Limit' system. During the transition, the new water accounting methods are being trialled but substantial work remains.

Reviews and adjustments

The Basin Plan is adaptive. Reviews have resulted in changes that will deliver better outcomes.

Water Resource Plans

At risk Water Resource Plans need to be accredited by 30 June 2019. Resources need to be focused on delivering the remaining plans. There is significant risk these plans will not be accredited on time. This work must further accelerate.

Water markets

The operation of the water market has been improved by removing barriers to trade. More information is publicly available to assist trade.

Environmental water

More than 750 watering events across the Basin since 2013–14. Environmental water holders are collaborating to get the best outcomes.

Working together

A healthy and productive Basin is a shared responsibility. Many agencies are involved in Basin Plan implementation and work together to deliver long-term outcomes. They must all remain committed to this task.

Water quality

Water quality is being managed across the Basin. Salinity targets have been met in 4 out of 5 locations.

More information

Updated: 10 Dec 2021