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River Murray operations

The River Murray is Australia's longest river. The river sustains towns and communities and agricultural production. As well as providing a habitat for many unique Australian plants and animals.

It flows for 2500 kilometres through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. For more than 100 years, the states have been sharing the water of the River Murray. Operating the river and moving water around the system is complex. River operators make daily decisions based on the best available science, monitoring and modelling to manage the waters of the Murray. 

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority operates the River Murray on behalf of the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments. The Murray–Darling Basin Agreement (the Agreement) sets out the water sharing rules across the states.

Key facts

Many rivers and tributaries join the Murray as it flows westward to the sea. Major rivers include the Goulburn, Murrumbidgee and the Darling.
The main storages in the River Murray system are Dartmouth and Hume dams, Yarrawonga Weir and Lake Victoria.
As well as the main storages, the MDBA controls water regulation through the locks and weirs from Lock 15 at Euston to Lock 7 at Rufus River.
Other major storages connected to the system (but not the responsibility of the MDBA) are Lake Eildon, Burrinjuck Dam, and the Snowy Mountains storages.
There are 14 weirs, 10 locks and five barrages. Barrages built near the river’s mouth stop sea water entering the river system.
There are 18 salt interception schemes diverting around half a million tonnes of salt away from river catchments each year.


The role of the MDBA in river operations

The MDBA determines the volume of water released to meet demands, but does not own any water. We can only release water from storage to meet state orders or system demands.

Water authorities in each state manage the physical operation of structures. New South Wales manages Menindee Lakes (on the Darling River) which contributes some water to the Murray system. The MDBA does not operate any of the River Murray downstream of the South Australian border. This is the responsibility of the South Australian Government.

The MDBA has a key operational role in:

  • sharing water in the River Murray between the three states
  • management of salt interception schemes
  • overseeing maintenance of existing assets
  • construction of new assets.

The Murray–Darling Basin Agreement sets the MDBA’s responsibilities for operating the river. It provides operating rules for the MDBA to follow and be audited against each year.

River management structures

  • Water storages (dams or reservoirs) capture large volumes of water to mitigate against drought.
  • Weirs are structues built in rivers and irrigation channels to store and regulate the flow of water. They can also raise the river level to improve navigation.
  • Locks are chambers built next to some weirs. They allow boats to pass through weirs by raising and lowering the river level.
  • Barrages are a series of weirs built at the end of the River Murray to prevent sea water from entering the river system.

The River Murray and tributaries


This diagram is an overview of river operations in the River Murray system. For more detailed information on operations or regulating structures in each state, contact the relevant state water management authority.

Updated: 09 Dec 2019