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What's in the Basin Plan?

The Basin Plan is a coordinated approach to water management across the Murray–Darling Basin's 4 states (South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland) and the Australian Capital Territory.

The Basin Plan was developed as a requirement of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth) and is a significant step in the ongoing process of managing the Basin’s water for the benefit of all its users and the environment.

At its heart, the Basin Plan determines the amount of water that can be extracted or taken annually from the Basin for consumptive use (urban, industrial and agricultural). The volume determined is called the long-term average sustainable diversion limit, or a volume of extraction that will not have a negative impact on the natural environments and the functions of the rivers, waterways, groundwater and wetlands of the Basin.

However, the Basin Plan is much more comprehensive than just determining a limit on water use. The Plan contains specific plans and frameworks to ensure:

Sustainable diversion limits

The Basin Plan sets new limits on the amount of water that can be taken for consumptive use, ie. industry, agriculture and other human use. These limits are called long-term average sustainable diversion limit (SDLs).  

The SDLs are like a new 'cap' on water use, and have been determined for each catchment and aquifer in the Basin. For the first time in Australian history, comprehensive limits on groundwater extraction have been set.

The SDLs will make more water available to the environment, to improve and maintain the health of waterways, lakes, major wetlands and floodplains within the Basin, as well as protect important habitats for animals and plants that rely on its water. The SDLs for groundwater will ensure that resources are not over-allocated in the future, and communities and environments dependent of ground water are sustainable.

While striving to improve the condition of the natural environment of the Basin, the SDLs recognise that there must be a balance between water for the environment and water for communities and industries. The overarching aim of the Basin Plan is to provide for a healthy working Basin into the future.

The MDBA determined that the long-term average environmentally sustainable level of take for surface water is 10,873 gigalitres per year (GL/y).

The total is made up of the individually-determined level of take (extraction) for each river valley. To achieve this level of take, the Basin Plan determined that 2,750 GL/y would need to be recovered from the 2009 baseline diversion level (BDL).

For groundwater, the MDBA determined that the environmentally sustainable level of take was to be 3,324 GL/y.

The 2009 BDL of groundwater was 2,385 GL/y, therefore diversion levels can sustainably be maintained or increase in all but one of the 66 groundwater units in the Basin.

A 7 year period (2012–19) was set for water users and managers to reduce extraction levels, in regions where a reduction was required. Some reduction was achieved prior to the Basin Plan taking effect, through water recovery programs operating  through 2009–11.

Since the Basin Plan came into effect, water has been recovered through direct purchase of water entitlement by the Australian Government, or the exchange of water entitlement for Australian investment in modern infrastructure.

The SDLs will commence in 2019 through state government water resource plans. However, the limits for each river valley and groundwater unit may be increased or decreased during the implementation phase of the Plan (2012–19), depending on the outcomes of infrastructure efficiency programs and new environmental watering regimes.