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Water demand (shortfalls)

The River Murray is over 2,500 kilometres long and is the major river in the Murray–Darling Basin. It flows through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The MDBA is responsible for ensuring available water is shared to meet the needs of those who depend on water from the River Murray. 

When water cannot be delivered to users when and where it is needed it is called a delivery shortfall. This could happen because demand exceeds the physical capacity of the river to carry the water, or when demands for water unexpectedly spike and there’s not enough time to release additional water from dams to meet the demand.

Irrigators and communities along the River Murray should be aware that there is an increasing risk that water may not be able be delivered to users when they want it. These risks are not new and change over time.


Key factors that impact water delivery 


Changing patterns of demand for water use for consumption, irrigation and the environment.

Changes in land use, including growth in irrigated agriculture.

A variable climate with severe droughts, summer floods and extreme temperatures. 

The amount of water the river can carry, particularly through the Barmah Choke. 

Water trade drives water to the highest value and the timing and location of demand is variable.

How much water is available and variation in inflows. 


Managing the risks

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia work together to manage water delivery shortfall risks. Together, we’re maximising our ability to meet demand and minimise risks.

Management strategies include:

  • operations planning for a range of scenarios from wet to very dry
  • monitoring demand and weather forecasts so operations can be adjusted
  • using water from tributaries including arranging delivery of inter-valley water transferred from tributaries downstream of the Barmah Choke
  • using the storage availability and water at Lake Victoria
  • using water from the Menindee Lakes System (when available) 
  • manipulating weir levels
  • managing and restricting water trade through the Barmah Choke.

To date risks have been managed well with no capacity and shortfall impacts since 2002. However, risks cannot be managed to zero.

The impact of a delivery shortfall

If a shortfall happens and water delivery is affected, temporary water restrictions may be placed on water users. Any restrictions will be directed and managed by the State Water Agencies

Actual restrictions are very rare. However, there is an increasing probability that a shortfall may occur.

The risk is greatest for River Murray water users downstream of the Barmah Choke.

Planning ahead

Water users need to recognise that shortfall risks exist and there may be times when water can’t be supplied to water users when, where and at the rate it’s required along the River Murray. Being aware of shortfall risks and understanding what the driving forces are for water demand is important. This knowledge will better prepare water users to understand the risk of water delivery shortfall and to take these risks into account when planning and making investment decisions.

Business decisions should factor in the potential risks of water not being delivered.

Roles and responsibilities 

The MDBA, state partners and their agencies have different roles and responsibilities in managing delivery shortfalls.

The MDBA operates the River Murray system on behalf of a “joint venture” made up of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian governments and the Australian Government. The MDBA is responsible for ensuring available water is shared between the states, managing the system’s assets and directing operations to meet the state’s needs. The state agencies are responsible for distributing their share of available water between individual water entitlements holders and enforcing any water restrictions. 

For more information from state partners on availability

For more information regarding delivery shortfall risk in Victoria


Updated: 18 Jun 2020