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Sharing River Murray water


  • New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have a long-standing agreement to share the water of the River Murray and the rivers that flow into it.  

  • The Murray–Darling Basin Agreement specifies how the water is shared. States decide how to allocate their share of water to entitlement or license holders such as farmers.  

  • The MDBA delivers water in the River Murray System on behalf of the states and has no involvement in setting entitlements or allocations.  

  • States own the water in the system and provide entitlements, or licences to water users.  


The joint management of the River Murray dates back more than 100 years. Today, the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement sets out the management rules and arrangements.

New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia share the water from the River Murray. The MDBA determines how much of the available water in the River Murray system belongs to each state through monitoring water storage levels and inflows into the river.

Water sharing rules are complex and are set up to cover a range of wet and dry conditions. 

Sharing the water



Key facts

Before water is available for the states, system demands must be met. These include conveyance water and reserves for the following year.

Under the agreement states set aside and guarantee water for critical human needs.

Critical human water needs are a pratical measure to help safeguard communities in drought.

We monitor water storage levels and inflows into the river system. Daily updates are available on River Murray Data.

The Agreement prescribes the amount of water provided by New South Wales and Victoria to South Australia.

The MDBA operates the river according to the rules of the agreement and state orders.


Water in reserve

Most dams are operated so that a certain amount of water is kept in reserve. In the River Murray system, water is set aside to assist with system needs for the following year. Some water is set aside up front, and some is set aside progressively throughout the year.

Conveyance water

Conveyance water is the water needed to keep the system running. It includes water lost to evaporation and through seepage. It can vary through the year and between years depending on river flows and climate. Without it, water could not be delivered.

Water entitlements

  • All water entitlements have the same conditions of use – the rules are the same for individuals, businesses and environmental water holders. 

  • The amount of water allocated by states depends on how much water is available and the type of entitlement held. 

  • Entitlements are permanent rights to water and allocations are the amount of water you get against that entitlement from year to year. 

  • Entitlements and allocations can be bought and sold on the water market. Entitlements to reliable water cost more to buy, entitlements or licenses with less reliable water are cheaper. 

Capacity limitations

Along the River Murray there are many locations with restricted capacity. This means water must move through a narrow channel of the river, such as though the Barmah Choke. Flows through these parts of the river are carefully managed. At times it can be difficult to manage and deliver water orders.

Too much water in these sections of the river means water will go over the bank and onto the surrounding land. This cannot always be avoided. It occurs naturally in times of flood or high inflows. To ensure access to water downstream of these narrow channels, extra releases are sometimes necessary. This may be months ahead to transfer water downstream in advance of future orders.

Updated: 09 Dec 2019