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Water recovery

Water recovery is the water that needs to be recovered from communities, industries and irrigators to ensure there is enough water to sustain the Murray–Darling Basin’s natural ecosystems. Once the water is recovered, it is then used to achieve environmental outcomes for the benefit of all Australians.

The Basin Plan considers how many gigalitres (GL) of water can be recovered and retained in the system, to ensure the health of the river system. The water recovery target is a long-term average.

Recovery volumes are based on scientific methods and judgement. Figures are determined based on an analysis of historical data, environmental science, and social and economic analysis, as well as the modelling of different future scenarios.

Water recovery has been occurring for more than a decade, even before the Basin Plan came into effect in 2012. Under the Basin Plan, the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is responsible for water recovery across the Basin and, with the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, is responsible for reporting progress on water recovery.

Local and shared recovery

Water is recovered at a catchment level (local recovery target) and at a state and territory level (shared recovery target).

The local recovery target is the volume of water required to meet the local environmental needs of a catchment. Water used through local recovery also provides benefits for the catchments downstream, and the overall health of the river system.

The shared recovery target is the volume of water required in addition to the local recovery in each catchment to meet environmental needs across the Basin. Basin state and territory governments determine what catchments this water will be recovered from.

The water recovery target has recently been updated through amendments to the Basin Plan. In January 2018, amendments were made to the Basin Plan, as part of the adjustment to sustainable diversion limits, reducing the Basin-wide water recovery target by 605 GL per year, dependent on the implementation of efficiency measures. In July 2018, a second set of amendments were made to the Basin Plan, following the Northern Basin Review. The amendments following the Northern Basin Review reduced the water recovery target from 390 GL per year to 320 GL per year in the northern Basin.

Recovery before the Basin Plan

The Basin Plan’s water recovery efforts build on previous water recovery that has already occurred, through state and Australian Government based initiatives such as The Living Murray program.

Over and under recovery

Accounting for water recovery is a complex process and requires understanding of a diverse range of information. This includes considering size of storages, historical climate patterns, new rules, crop information and expected usage patterns, all of which are outlined in each water resource plan.

All 33 water resource plans need to be accredited, before the final assessment of water recovery occurs. Once all water resource plans are accredited, the Australian Government will then complete a final calculation to determine exactly how much water has been recovered.

A new off-farm water Infrastructure program

The Murray–Darling Basin Off-farm Efficiency Grants Program is a new Basin-wide initiative to recover environmental water through efficiency measures projects.

In return for funding water efficiency infrastructure projects, participants transfer an agreed volume of water savings to the Commonwealth in the form of eligible water rights. Any additional water savings generated by the infrastructure upgrades can be retained by the program participant.

$1.54 billion has been set aside at this time to fund the recovery of 450 GL of water through efficiency measures projects.

The Program does not involve direct purchase of water rights by the Commonwealth and is designed to deliver neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes for the Basin and its residents. More information is available from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

More information

Updated: 03 Aug 2022