New science, social and economic research and extensive community consultation was undertaken for the Northern Basin Review. This resulted in a proposal to reduce the water recovery target by 70 GL, provided governments commit to implementing a range of improvements to the way water is managed in the northern Basin
Basin governments have proposed 37 projects in the southern Basin, designed to reduce water recovery while still achieving equivalent environmental outcomes
To limit the effects on communities, the government has continued to focus on water recovery through infrastructure projects rather than water purchases, which are now capped at 1,500 GL
After recognising delays in developing water resource plans, governments are improving processes to ensure they are completed by 2019
Increasing Aboriginal involvement in water resource planning and environmental watering is leading to better understanding and incorporation of Aboriginal knowledge and values
Basin communities and industries
Modernising irrigation infrastructure continued to provide benefits to the irrigation sector and remains the preferred way to recover water for the environment
In 2015–16, $263 million was spent on modernising irrigation infrastructure, with more money committed for future projects
Some Basin communities continued to experience adverse economic effects from past water purchases
While water prices have risen with the implementation of the Basin Plan, seasonal conditions appear to be the most significant driver of water prices. For example, in 2015–16 temporary water prices increased by between 71–94% from the previous year, primarily driven by dry conditions
More than 90 small and large businesses, local governments and other organisations received over $65 million in funding through the Murray–Darling Basin Economic Diversification Programme
A healthy Basin environment
Around 2,250 GL of environmental water was delivered to the Basin annual watering priorities. This included water that was re-used to benefit multiple priorities
Water holders worked together to maximise outcomes, with around 86% of environmental water delivered in coordinated watering events
While there were local successes for waterbirds and fish, waterbird numbers across the Basin remain historically low. It will take many
years to see if continued local successes will be able to reverse the long-term decline in bird numbers across the Basin
Low water availability and system constraints — including community concerns about flooding — meant that the Mid-Murrumbidgee Wetlands and Moira grass priorities did not receive enough environmental water
Rainfall and storage levels
Rainfall across the Murray–Darling Basin was highly variable during 2015–16. Conditions were drier than average across much of Victoria and South Australia, while the majority of New South Wales recorded average or above average rainfall. In Queensland, the rainfall was mostly average or below average.
There was a distinct change to wetter conditions from May 2016 across the entire Basin. Large parts of all states experienced above average rainfall, and parts of central NSW experienced the highest-ever recorded winter rainfall.
Storage volumes in the northern and southern Basins for July 2015, June 2016 and November 2016 are shown in Figure 3. Higher rainfall in the winter and spring of 2016 increased storage levels to 79% in the northern Basin and 85% in the southern Basin by November 2016.
Figure 3: Murray–Darling Basin rainfall and storage (not including water in private storages)
Water diversions and crop production
Total water diversions within the Basin fluctuate according to seasonal conditions. As shown in Figure 4, surface water diversions dropped to a low of just over 4,000 gigalitres (GL) during the millennium drought in 2009, recovering to a peak of around 11,000 GL in the wet years around 2013. During 2015–16, with variable conditions across the Basin, surface water diversions totalled 8,600 GL.
Use of groundwater does not vary as much as surface water, reaching a peak of 1,800 GL during the drought, as availability of surface water declined. Following a low of 700 GL in 2011, groundwater extraction has gradually increased, to around 1,500 GL in 2015–16.
Crop production and area irrigated are closely aligned with fluctuating weather conditions, with water availability the primary limiting factor determining the area and type of crops planted each year. Irrigated agriculture in the Basin includes a wide range of activities, including fruit and nuts, grapes, rice, cotton and dairy.
In 2014–15 (the most recently available data), the total area of irrigated agricultural production was over 1.4 million hectares. Since 2000, the irrigated area has corresponded closely with diversions. Irrigated area was at its lowest during the millennium drought, with peaks in the wet years of 2005–06 and 2012–13. There was a variation of more than 5,000 GL in the annual volume of water used between the wettest and driest years, see Figure 4.
The mix of crops grown also varies with water availability. Perennial crops such as grapes and fruit trees tend to maintain a relatively consistent level of water use, whereas annual crops such as rice and cotton will vary markedly in response to seasonal conditions.
Figure 4: Groundwater and surface water diversions in the Basin and area irrigated from 2004–2015