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Implementing the Basin Plan

The 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation shows the Basin Plan is achieving positive outcomes – measurable environmental outcomes have been observed at the Basin-scale, along with some good local projects involving communities and industries.

Many of the major elements of the Basin Plan are now in place and are improving sustainable water management. Some critical elements, however, still lag in implementation. Until all components of the Basin Plan are operational, the full benefits for Basin communities and the nation cannot be delivered.

Focus and attention from all governments is needed to ensure continued progress on Basin Plan implementation and supporting measures, for the benefit of all Australians – we must work together.

Basin Plan implementation – The 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation


Next steps

Sustainable diversion limits

  • Sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) were set in 2012 and are now in place.
  • The transition from the Cap to new limits occurred in mid-2019.
  • Improved knowledge has allowed for new limits be set for the northern Basin and several groundwater areas.
  • Water recovery has become more targeted, with a focused effort on other measures to support limits.
  • The recovery target has been adjusted to 2,075 gigalitres as a result of 2 amendments to the Basin Plan, including for the SDL Adjustment Mechanism.
  • The delivery of SDL Adjustment Mechanism projects is needed to modernise the river and change the limits of water use.
  • There is a growing risk that the 2024 timeframe for some constraints and supply projects may not be achieved.

Water resource plans

  • As of July 2020, 13 water resource plans are in place for Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.
  • As of mid-2020, all 20 New South Wales water resource plans are with the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) for assessment.
  • These plans take significant time to develop, assess and accredit.
  • Most water resource plans experienced delays in assessment and accreditation.
  • The remaining water resource plans from New South Wales are crucial to future management in the northern Basin.
  • There are a range of projects in the northern Basin that also need to progress to development and delivery on the ground including the licensing and measurement of floodplain harvesting and overland flows, and the roll-out of remaining ‘Northern Basin Toolkit’ measures.


Water for the environment

  • Over 2,100 gigalitres of water is now held and managed by the Basin’s environmental water holders and is being applied across the Basin to achieve healthy river system outcomes.
  • Measures, such as the Northern Basin Toolkit, have been put in place to enable targeted actions that benefit the environment.
  • The Basin Plan’s Environmental Management Framework is in place to guide implementation of improvement to flow regimes, coordination of water for the environment and to enable adaptive management.
  • The National Water Initiative identifies the need for community partnerships. There needs to be more consistent and coordinated effort by the Basin governments and the MDBA in helping water users to work within the new framework.

Water trade

  • The southern Basin water market is well-established and demonstrates the ability of water markets to support the movement of water resources to their highest value use.
  • Greater and more practical information is needed to support water users’ participation in the market.


  • Improved compliance arrangements were fast-tracked as a result of community concerns and public scrutiny.
  • Basin governments worked effectively together to agree and implement a Compliance Compact.
  • There have been significant improvements in water metering, monitoring and accounting.
  • Trust and community confidence needs to be improved.

Monitoring, accounting and reporting

  • Monitoring of Basin Plan outcomes has begun through Basin states and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office.
  • Accounting methods and processes are in place and are maturing.
  • There are a range of implementation reports publicly available that provide transparency on Basin Plan progress.
  • Monitoring programs are being implemented but these vary at temporal and spatial scale. There are significant gaps that need to be addressed to improve analysis of Basin condition.
  • Basin governments have committed to improving transparency on Basin Plan progress and outcomes.



Recommendations and commitments for the future

Evaluating the Basin Plan is an opportunity for Basin governments to reflect on the past 8 years.

The Evaluation considers the changing landscape across the Basin, the effectiveness of the Basin Plan and whether outcomes are being achieved. It’s also an opportunity to determine how we continue to improve the health of the Basin for everyone.

The MDBA has made several recommendations and commitments to improve the management of water resources. The MDBA has made the following recommendations to improve the implementation of the Basin Plan:

  • Recommendation 1 – Basin state governments and the Australian Government need to urgently commit to delivering significant Basin Plan projects. These include the SDL Adjustment Mechanism projects, ‘Northern Basin Toolkit’ measures and the remaining water resource plans, which are yet to be accredited. All are complex initiatives and governments need to continue to work in partnership with local communities to design and implement.
  • Recommendation 2 – There is still scope for Basin governments to propose new and innovative approaches to achieving the long-term sustainable limits for water use in the Basin. As Basin governments and communities engage on completing the remaining elements of Basin Plan implementation it will be vital to show how these new approaches could contribute to delivery of sustainable water use limits.

The MDBA has also made a commitment to improve the implementation of the Basin Plan.

MDBA commitment

The groundwork must start soon to devise an approach for the 2026 Basin Plan Review, including meaningful community and other stakeholder involvement in the process. The MDBA will work with Basin governments and stakeholders to take this forward, focusing on the long-term sustainable health of the Basin.

Updated: 02 Nov 2021