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Water quality monitoring

As a requirement of the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement, the River Murray water quality monitoring program was established to monitor water quality on an ongoing basis.

The MDBA manages this program on behalf of Basin governments, maintaining a uniform system for measuring, analysing and presenting data to create a picture of current and long-term river health within the River Murray system.

Under the program, water samples are collected at regular intervals from 28 sites along the River Murray and across its tributaries in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Samples from each of these sites are analysed for a range of characteristics, including:

  • electrical conductivity (indicator of salinity)
  • pH (indicator of acid or alkali)
  • temperature
  • turbidity
  • total phosphorus and total nitrogen
  • soluble organic carbon
  • silica
  • sulphate and bi-carbonate
  • chlorophyll and phaeophytin (indicators of algal health).

This information helps us to assess the impact of human development in the river system, detect sources of pollution and respond to changes in condition such as algal blooms and blackwater events.

Additionally, the monitoring data provides an extensive long-term record of water quality in the system and is relied upon by many of our stakeholders for a range of purposes, including research.

The results are used by the MDBA and the Basin states to inform water management decisions on flow, use, control or quality of water in the River Murray and its storages.

At some of the monitoring locations, the program collects phytoplankton (algae) samples. Phytoplankton sampling is conducted periodically on the Murray and Darling rivers at 12 locations. This long-term program represents one of Australia’s most extensive water quality datasets. It is used to determine the health of the River Murray and its major tributaries in response to changes in flow, water quality, river management and climate.

An interjurisdictional Water Quality Advisory Panel provides governance and expert advice with regard to the MDBA's role in managing the water quality of the River Murray, its tributaries and storages.

Data from sites of the River Murray water quality monitoring program and from other locations are available via WaterNSW and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Updated: 24 Mar 2023