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Progress on water recovery

When establishing the Basin Plan it was determined that a portion of surface water entitlements should be recovered and retained in the system, to improve the health of the river system. This is known as the water recovery target, and is a long-term average.

The recovery volume is based on scientific method and judgement. It has been determined based on an analysis of historical data, environmental science, and social and economic analysis, as well as the modelling of different future scenarios.

Basin Plan amendments

In January 2018, amendments were made to the Basin Plan, as part of the adjustment to sustainable diversion limits. 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/y to 320 GL/y in the northern Basin and provided additional time for Basin states to request a re-allocation of the shared reduction amount within a Basin zone in their state. By 30 September 2018, Queensland and South Australia had requested a re-allocation of the shared reduction amount within their state.

Summary of surface water recovery progress

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority estimates that the contracted water recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin, as at 30 September 2018, is 2,118.4 Gigalitres per year.

  • In addition 0.5 GL/y of efficiency measure entitlements have been registered with Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).
  • Following the amendments to the Basin Plan, the target for water recovery is 2,075 GL/y plus 450 GL/y of efficiency measures by 2024. The Australian Government is targeting at least 62 GL/y of efficiency measures entitlements by 30 June 2019.
  • Local water recovery still required is 29.5 GL/y, mostly in the northern Basin, plus 61.5 GL/y of efficiency measure entitlements.

For more information, visit the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.

Accounting for water recovery

Accounting for water recovery is a complex process and requires understanding a diverse range of information.

The current recovery amount is an estimate of the long term average annual useby the portfolio of water entitlements that have been recovered.

This estimate is calculated by applying a set of factors to the water entitlement volumes (these are often referred to as 'cap factors' or 'long term diversion limit equivalent' (LTDLE) factors). These factors are based on a set of planning assumptions, which considers such things as storage sizes, historical climate patterns, water resource plan rules, assumptions about irrigator crop selection and expected usage patterns. These planning assumptions are currently being updated, as part of developing water resource plans. The NSW Government has recently conducted public consultation and is expected to finalise its updated factors soon.

The New South Wales Government has released it's updated factors following public consultation.

As the factors are updated for each catchment, an improved estimate of the water recovery will be available. In some valleys this may mean a small amount of extra water recovery may be required.

The factors will be used to determine if the water recovery required in each catchment has been completed by June 2019, as required under the Basin Plan.

Nimmie Caira

The New South Wales Government and the Australian Government requested the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) undertake a review of Nimmie-Caira’s estimated contribution to the water recovery target.

The review focused on the 40.4 GL/y that was not originally included in the recovery contribution. The MDBA’s review has found that this should contribute to the bridging the gap target.

Read the Review of the contribution of the Nimmie-Caira purchase to Basin Plan water recovery.

Basin scale

The sum of all local targets, shared targets and the apportioned supply contribution is the total surface water recovery target for the Basin.

Recovery targets, at the Basin scale, are as follows:

total sum of local targets total sum of shared targets apportioned supply contribution total Basin target (local + shared less apportioned supply contribution)

1,668 GL/y

1,012 GL/y

605 GL/y

2,075 GL/y

In addition to the water recovery target above, the Australian Government is seeking to deliver 62 GL/y of efficiency measure entitlements, with neutral or positive social and economic impacts, by 30 June 2019. By 30 June 2024, the Australian Government is seeking to deliver a total of 450 GL/y efficiency measure entitlements, with neutral or positive social and economic impacts.

Contracted recovery estimates* at the Basin scale are as follows:

Commonwealth recovery purchased by tender program Commonwealth recovery from infrastructure projects Other Commonwealth recovery total recovery by state projects total estimated contracted water recovery

1,226.9 GL/y1

713.1 GL/y

15.0 GL/y

163.5 GL/y

2,118.4 GL/y

1 includes 2.9 GL/y that is exempt from the 1500 GL limit on water purchases.

The total remaining water recovery* is as follows:

Recovery remaining to meet all local targets Recovery remaining to meet all shared targets total water recovery still required

29.5 GL/y


29.5 GL/y

*as at 3 July 2018.

The details of the water recovery effort are presented in a summary table and more detailed table.

If you need an alternative format of the summary table, please contact the MDBA directly.

The summary table sets out all of the water recovery targets across the Basin, current progress toward meeting the targets, and the balance of recovery required. The information is presented at the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) resource unit scale, shared zone scale, and at total Basin scale.

There are 3 key aspects to water recovery targets in the Basin Plan. These are:

  • local targets, known in the Basin Plan as a 'local reduction amount', which apply at the SDL resource unit level
  • shared targets, known in the Basin Plan as a 'shared reduction amount', which apply at the Basin shared zone level
  • apportioned supply contribution, which reflects, in advance, recognition of multiple proposed supply projects where equivalent environmental outcomes are achieved with a lower volume of held environmental water than would otherwise be required. An outcome of the supply contribution is to increase the SDL.

The terminology used in the Basin Plan, 'reduction amount', refers to the amount of reduction in water diversions for consumptive purposes required to reduce diversions from the BDL to the SDL.

Progress against shared targets

Shared recovery targets are the further recovery required, in addition to the local recovery targets, to satisfy the environmental needs of the Murray and Darling rivers. The shared recovery is contributed to by SDL resource units which are sufficiently connected to these large rivers.

As at 3 July 2018, no further shared water recovery is required with the shared recovery target of 1,012.0 GL/y met.

The 30 September 2018 estimates take into account shared reduction amount reallocation requests from Queensland and South Australia. Under the Basin Plan states may nominate their shared recovery allocation targets at the individual SDL resource unit level. New South Wales and Victoria have until 31 December 2018 to make a reallocation request, which must be agreed to by DAWR and the MDBA. If no request is made then the default amounts as calculated under s6.05 (4) of the Basin Plan will be used. However, the amount recovered to date is estimated to be sufficient to meet shared recovery targets at their respective shared zone levels.

Progress against local targets

The Basin Plan sets out a local water recovery target for each SDL resource unit area. This target must be met by recovering water from within that SDL resource unit area. The local recovery amount is (in most cases) the minimum recovery required within each SDL resource unit to satisfy local environmental needs.

SDL resource units with remaining local water recovery are as follows:

SDL resource unit

local recovery remaining (GL/y)

northern Basin



Queensland Border Rivers


Barwon-Darling Watercourse




NSW Border Rivers


disconnected tributaries



total local water recovery remaining


Surface water SDL resource units

An SDL resource unit describes a geographical area which contains a set of water resources. Boundaries of surface-water SDL resource units are generally based on catchments, while boundaries of groundwater SDL resource units are based on hydrogeology and existing state planning boundaries. Maps of the SDL resource units are available from our spatial information downloads page.

SDL resource units are broadly grouped under the 'northern Basin', 'southern Basin' or 'disconnected tributaries'.

Pre–2009 water recovery

Since 2004, major water recovery programs have been underway to recovery water for the environment in the Basin. These programs include the 'The Living Murray' and 'Water for Rivers'.

The water recovery commitments in this period of 2004–09 were taken into account when determining the baseline diversion limits and SDLs for each SDL resource unit area. The water recovery target builds upon these historical efforts to improve environmental outcomes.

The MDBA's estimates of water recovered by these programs is presented in the pre–2009 water recovery table.

If you need an alternative format of the pre-2009 water recovery table, please contact the MDBA directly.