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Border rivers

The Border rivers catchment is one of the northern-most catchments in the Murray–Darling Basin. It is made up of a group of rivers in a region straddling the New South Wales and Queensland border. The rivers of the catchment rise on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and run westward, gradually merging with one another to become the Barwon River on the floodplains upstream of Mungindi.

A 450 km section of the Dumaresq, Macintyre and the Barwon rivers forms the border between Queensland and New South Wales. At Mungindi, the Barwon River heads south-west and the border between the states continues as a straight line following the 29th degree of latitude south of the equator.

The rivers and wetlands of the region provide habitat for a range of native fish species, many of which used to be widespread in the Basin. The nationally significant Morella Watercourse, Boobera Lagoon and Pungbougal Lagoon are located on the Macintyre River floodplain, and are considered among the most important First Nations places in eastern Australia.

The catchment is home to about 2.5% of the population of the Basin. Agriculture is the main employment sector in the region, reflecting a diverse primary industry.


Catchment area

4% of the Murray–Darling Basin

Contribution to Basin water


Annual stream flow

130 GL (Macintyre River at Wallangra)


Macintyre River, Dumaresq River, Severn River (NSW), Severn River (QLD), Macintyre Brook, Weir River


Croppa, Whalan and Gil Gil creeks, Boomi and Little Weir rivers

Towns include

Goondiwindi, Stanthorpe, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Inverell

Water storages

Pindari Lake (312 GL), Glenlyon Lake (261 GL), Lake Coolmunda (69 GL)

Water users

Urban centres, agriculture

The landscape and its water

The landscape of the Border rivers catchment is diverse, ranging from tablelands and slopes in the east to semi-arid plains in the south-west. Elevations in the Great Dividing Range, near where the Macintyre River rises, can be up to 1,500 metres, whereas the floodplains have an elevation between 100 and 200 metres above sea level.

The eastern part of the catchment where most of the rivers rise has an annual average rainfall of 800–1,100 mm. The Maranoa Valley has an average annual rainfall of around 500–600 mm, and the floodplains to the west have an average of around 500 mm. Rainfall throughout the catchment is summer dominant and the climate is described as subtropical on the plains and temperate at higher altitudes.

The central and western part of the Border rivers catchment is underlain by the Great Artesian Basin. There is some interaction between water of the Great Artesian Basin and overlying surface water or shallow groundwater (contained in near-surface aquifers). Shallow groundwater exists in aquifers in a range of rock types in the highlands of the catchment, and in alluvial aquifers throughout the catchment, particularly associated with the Dumaresq River in Queensland and the Macintyre River in New South Wales. Recharge to the aquifers occurs through rainfall, floodwater and lateral flow between the different groundwater systems.

People, industry and water use

The lands of the Border rivers catchment have been important to First Nations people for more than 25,000 years. First Nations people retain a connection with the region and their history, culture and livelihoods are closely intertwined with its river systems. First Nations people of the region include the Bigambul, Euahlayi, Githabul, Kambuwal, Gomeroi/Kamilaroi, Kwiambul, and Ngarabal.

European settlement in the eastern part of the catchment commenced in the 1840s. Pastoral runs were taken up in the south-west of the region from about the 1860s. Areas with access to good quality water became successful cropping regions during the 1960s and 1970s.

The population of the Border rivers catchment is about 2.5% of the population of the Murray–Darling Basin. Inverell, in the northern New South Wales tablelands, is the largest centre in the catchment with a population of about 11,000. In 2006, the most significant employment sector for the region's workforce was agriculture, forestry and fishing, followed by wholesale and retail trade, and health and community services.

Land use is dominated by cattle and sheep grazing predominantly on the tablelands and western plains, with dryland crops grown on the slopes. Small-scale crops such as grapes, stone fruit, vegetables and apples are also grown in the upland areas. Irrigated crops on the western plains account for about 2% of the land area. Around 75% of irrigated crops are cotton. Most groundwater extraction for irrigation occurs along the Dumaresq River for horticultural crops such as potatoes, for fodder crops including lucerne and for livestock pasture. Viticulture and horticulture crops are expanding enterprises in the upper catchment region.

As of 2008, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) reported on average 34% of available surface water was extracted for use, which is high compared with other catchments in the Basin. Groundwater extraction is about 50% of available resources.

Regulation of water in the catchment

Dams were built in the Border rivers catchment in the 1960s and 1970s for flood mitigation and irrigation water supply to the plains. Since that time, river flows in the catchment have been highly regulated. Glenlyon Dam on the Pike Creek, in the upper Dumaresq catchment, regulates 88% of inflows, and Pindari Dam on the Severn River (New South Wales) regulates 70% of inflows. On-farm ring tanks – that pump floodwaters from a nearby watercourse – account for 40% of constructed storage capacity in the region. River flow is not regulated below Mungindi.

Water stored in Glenlyon Dam is shared between New South Wales (up to 57%) and Queensland water users (up to 43%). Water sharing rules in the region are complex and because the catchment lies in 2 states, water is managed by the Dumaresq–Barwon Border Rivers Commission which was established in 1946.

There are many small weirs and regulators throughout the catchment that supply water for domestic and stock use.

Environmental importance

The Border rivers catchment supports a diverse range of flora and fauna including species listed as vulnerable, such as the great egret, Australian painted snipe, Murray cod and Warra broad-leaved sally. The extensive wetlands in the catchment provide large amounts of carbon to the riverine ecosystems, which support a diverse population of waterbirds.

The nationally significant Morella Watercourse, Boobera Lagoon and Pungbougal Lagoon are located on the Macintyre River floodplain and collectively are 1 of the few permanent waterbodies in the northern Basin. These waterbodies are an important refuge for wildlife during periods of drought.

The Sustainable Rivers Audit 2 (released in 2012) reported that the overall ecosystem health of the Border rivers valleys was poor. The hydrology of the river system was rated in good condition, the fish community, macroinvertebrate community and physical form was rated as moderate, and the riverine vegetation was rated as poor. Regulation of the river has had the greatest impact on the lowland region of the Border rivers system, due to reduced flows.

Water recovery

The Basin Plan sets Sustainable Diversion Limits, which is how much water can be used in the Murray–Darling Basin, while leaving enough water for the environment. A Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) was established for each catchment (or group of catchments) and the reduction in diversions required to achieve the SDL was identified.

The use of environmental water in a specific catchment or region will vary from year-to-year. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy to guide the use of environmental water across the Murray–Darling Basin to help achieve the best possible results over the long term. Environmental water managers make the day-to-day decisions on what to water and when, in line with the strategy and taking into account seasonal conditions, priorities and the availability of environmental water. Watering decisions are made in consultation with various waterway managers and local landholders.

Catchment or regionally-specific details about environmental water use in the catchment including watering actions, portfolio details and planning, and monitoring of environmental watering, can be found through the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder or the state government environmental water manager.

More information

Water management

The management of the water resources is the responsibility of local, regional, state and Australian governments.

Delivery to households, industry and farms is managed by local councils or regional water authorities.

State government departments for water ensures that the network of authorities manage water responsibly and fairly, catchment and waterway health is maintained or improved through catchment management authorities, and water saving, re-use and flood management projects are implemented. State governments must manage their state's water resources according to state and commonwealth water legislation.

In addition to directing operations of the regulated River Murray system, the MDBA implements a number of plans and programs to ensure the waters of the Basin, which flow through four states and one territory, are managed cohesively and in the best interests of all water users of the Basin.

Rural water authority

Urban water authority

Catchment management authority

State government water authority

Use of environmental water

Irrigation water allocation


Updated: 01 Apr 2022