Murray–Darling Basin
Administration

Surface water and groundwater

Water legislation

Surface water

The main legislative instruments governing water resource management within the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB) region are:

Groundwater

Groundwater in the MDB region is governed by the same legislation as surface water, as detailed for surface water above.

Water management plans

Surface water

Water planning and management in the MDB region is based on State and Territory water management plans. The details of each Territory and State's arrangements are provided below.

 

Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Capital Territory Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT) does not provide for the making of a statutory water resource management plan in the Australian Capital Territory. Instead, it provides for specific instruments to manage water. When considered as a whole, these instruments constitute the main elements of a typical plan. These instruments include:

 

New South Wales

Water sharing plans are the water management instruments in New South Wales and remain in force for ten years following their approval subject to section 43A of the New South Wales Water Management Act 2000. Water sharing plans covering the MDB region, continuing from the previous year and applicable during the 2012–13 year were:

Water sharing plans covering the MDB region which came into effect during the 2012–13 year were:


Queensland

Water resource plans and resource operations plans are the water management instruments in Queensland. Water resource plans covering the MDB region during the 2012–13 year were:

Through an amendment to the Water Act 2000 (Qld), existing water resource plans are to continue until 30 June 2019. The Warrego, Paroo, Bulloo, and Nebine water resource plan is currently under review. The other plans are likely to be extended with review and accreditation prior to the implementation date for sustainable diversion limits specified in the Basin Plan 2012.

 

New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008

The New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008 (New South Wales Government and Queensland Government 2008) provides direction on water sharing and access, interstate trading, and managing the streamflows shared by both States, as well as water for the Darling River Basin.

 

South Australia

Water management in South Australia is governed by water allocation plans and regional natural resources management plans. The South Australian Natural Resources Management Act 2004 requires that regional natural resources management plans, of which water allocation plans are a component, be reviewed within 10 years of being adopted. Water resource plans covering the MDB region during the 2012–13 year were:

Victoria

Victoria's water entitlement and allocation framework provides the basis for the management of Victoria's water resources and governs how water can be abstracted and used. The framework considers all water resources (surface water and groundwater) for both consumptive and environmental purposes.

The key water resource management planning documents are:

  • bulk entitlements that are the legal rights to water granted by the Minister for Water under the Victorian Water Act 1989 (Department of Environment and Primary Industries 2013e)
  • regional sustainable water strategies—statutory planning tools made under the Victorian Water Act 1989 (Department of Environment and Primary Industries 2013fa)
  • water supply demand strategies—urban
  • stream-flow management plans (Department of Environment and Primary Industries 2008)
  • groundwater management plans
  • regional river health strategies, prepared under the Victorian Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994.

Two regional sustainable water strategies applicable to MDB areas within Victoria are the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy and the Western Region Sustainable Water Strategy.

 

Groundwater

Water planning and management in the MDB region is based on State and Territory water management plans. The details of the specific instruments in place for each State and Territory are listed below.

 

Australian Capital Territory

As with surface water, groundwater is managed in line with the following instruments associated with the Australian Capital Territory Water Resources Act 2007:

  

New South Wales

The following water sharing plans applied to groundwater within the MDB region during the 2012–13 year:

Unregulated and alluvial water sharing plans cited under surface water (came into effect during the 2012–13 year or before) also apply for groundwater.

Sections of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) within the MDB region are also covered by water sharing plans; however, the GAB resource is not included in the MDB region in the 2013 Account.

 

Queensland

Queensland has no current statutory water resource plans for groundwater; however, Queensland manages groundwater through other management frameworks. These include:

  • declared groundwater areas, requiring the abstraction of water to be licensed (except stock and domestic use)
  • groundwater management areas involving a higher level of management, including licensed abstraction, specifying a volumetric limit; detailed water-sharing rules, including announced allocations to set and control the volume of water abstracted under licence each year; metering, ensuring abstraction is accounted for and managed in accordance with entitlement and resource availability; and moratoriums, limiting the abstraction of new water
  • moratoriums on other groundwater areas, controlling and limiting the abstraction of new water while management arrangements are being established.

 

New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008

The New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Intergovernmental Agreement 2008 (New South Wales Government and Queensland Government 2008) applies principally to surface water in the Border Rivers catchment within the jurisdiction of the respective States, but also provides for broad agreement on the shared groundwater resources of the Dumaresq River groundwater area. It is the intention of both States that this agreement will ultimately be amended to better articulate the sharing arrangements for the groundwater resources common to the two States, excluding the GAB.

 

South Australia

Within South Australia, water allocation plans are developed for each prescribed well area. The water allocation plans in place in the MDB region during the 2012–13 year include:

Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Prescribed Water Resource Area water allocation plan (in preparation) and Marne Saunders Prescribed Water Resources Water Allocation Plan apply for both surface water and groundwater.

The South Australian Natural Resources Management Act 2004 requires that regional natural resources management plans, of which water allocation plans are a component, be reviewed within 10 years of being adopted. The Water Allocation Plan for the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area was as revised in May 2012. The Water Allocation Plan for the Angas Bremer Prescribed Wells Area will be incorporated into the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges water allocation plan once the latter is implemented.

 

Victoria

Within the MDB region, the following groundwater management plans were in force during the 2012–13 year:

Water sharing plans covering the MDB region which came into effect during the 2012–13 year were:

  •  Lower Campaspe Water Supply Protection Area (WSPA) Groundwater Management Plan (this plan has replaced the earlier Campaspe Deep Lead WSPA and Southern Campaspe Plains groundwater management area plans) (Goulburn–Murray Water 2013a)

  • Loddon Highlands WSPA Groundwater Management Plan (this plan has replaced the earlier Spring Hill and Upper Loddon WSPA plans) (Goulburn–Murray Water 2013b).

 

Border Groundwater Agreement (Victoria – South Australia)

Victoria and South Australia entered into the Border Groundwaters Agreement in 1985, and it was updated in 2005 (Government of South Australia 2005). It states that the available groundwater shall be shared equitably between the two states along a 20-km wide designated area extending on both sides of the border.

 

Murray–Darling Basin plan

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority released the draft Murray–Darling Basin plan for public exhibition in November 2011 (Murray–Darling Basin Authority 2013b). Thereafter during the 2012–13 year, consultation with community, stakeholder, and the Basin States and the Territory was undertaken. After the end of the consultations and negotiations, the Basin Plan 2012 was adopted by the Commonwealth Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in November 2012.

The Basin Plan 2012 aims to optimise social, economic and environmental outcomes arising from the use of the Basin water resource in the national interest. It establishes 29 surface water sustainable diversion limit (SDL) units and 66 groundwater SDL units. Compliance with the SDLs is required from 1 July 2019. There is a period of transition from the Cap to SDL between now and 2019.

During the transition period, the Cap will continue to be the instrument for compliance for surface water diversions through until the 2019–20 year or for as long as Schedule E of the Murray–Darling Basin Agreement remains in effect. Although enforcement will only be against Cap during the transition period, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority will publish information about permitted and actual diversions under Section 71 of the Australian Government Water Act 2007. This will ensure there is a level of transparency and accountability for all basin water resources until sustainable diversion limits take effect in the 2019–20 year.

Based on the Basin Plan 2012 assessments, proposed SDLs for surface water and groundwater have been 10,873,000 ML per year and 3,334,000 ML per year respectively for the whole Basin.

Environmental water management

Environmental water legislation

Environmental water in the MDB region is governed by the same legislation as surface water, as detailed in surface water legislation (see Water legislation).

Environmental water provisions

General environmental water management information applicable to the MDB region can be found in the National Water Commission's Australian Environmental Water Management reports of 2010 and 2012 (National Water Commission 2010 and National Water Commission 2012). Some key features of the environmental water regime within the MDB region are stated below:

  • Each jurisdiction has legislative goals for managing surface water and groundwater systems. This includes managing environmental water outcomes in the MDB region.
  • Within each jurisdiction, the water management plans that have been developed address requirements to provide water for the environment by setting aside volumes that cannot be abstracted from the system and through releasing volumes from a storage in a controlled manner to achieve a set of conditions downstream. The restrictions on abstraction also apply to groundwater systems.
  • Not all areas of the MDB region have water management plans developed.
  • In addition to water management plans, other programmes have been introduced by governments to increase the volume of water that is provided for the environment. For example, the Australian Government has introduced the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program (SRWUIP), which is a national programme investing in rural water use, management and efficiency projects, including improved water knowledge and market reforms.  Under the program, water savings are recovered for the environment through three main components: irrigation infrastructure projects; supply measures; and water purchase (Australian Government Department of the Environment 2014a). The water rights acquired by the Commonwealth under this program become part of the Commonwealth environmental water holdings. These holdings are managed by the  Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH). More information about Commonwealth environmental water holdings can be obtained from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Annual Report 2012–13 (Australian Government Department of the Environment 2014b) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office website.
  • Jurisdictions have also delivered significant water recovery programmes over the recent past, such as New South Wales RiverBank, Rivers Environmental Restoration Program, and Wetland Recovery Program.
  • Entitlements are held for the purpose of watering the environment as a result of the above mentioned and other programmes (e.g., environmental entitlements held by the Minister for Environment in New South Wales, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority for the Living Murray program, and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder in Victoria).

 

New South Wales

New South Wales delivered 539,000 ML environmental water from NSW environmental water holdings, Commonwealth environmental water  holdings, The Living Murray program and other sources to wetlands and areas of high biodiversity value in NSW rivers.

 

Victoria

Water savings from Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) which was integrated into Goulburn-Murray Water on 1 July 2012 are shared between irrigators, urban water users and the environment. The project involves installation of  a large number of FlumeGatesTM, new on-farm meters and remediation of channels.

During the 2012–13 year, Victoria released over 375,000 ML of environmental water from all sources.

 

South Australia

Environmental water in South Australia is managed according to South Australia's Natural Resources Management Act 2004, which is administered by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation in South Australia. The South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources is the principal regulatory agency established to manage environmental water in the MDB areas within South Australia on behalf of the Minister.

During the 2012–13 year, South Australia provided over 1,090,000 ML for the environment from its sources, and received from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and through the Living Murray program. The Murray River channel, Lower Lakes, Coorong, and Murray Mouth icon site were the highest priority for receiving environmental water.

 

Queensland

Queensland provided over 68,000 ML of water held by CEWH for the environment for supporting migration and spawning cues for a number of native fish communities, and improving habitats for aquatic plants, animals and waterbirds within the MDB during the 2012–13 year. In addition, there were environmental water provisions in Queensland under other programs; however, volumetric information is not available.

 

Commonwealth programmes

The CEWH managed 1,629,000 ML of water entitlements, which has a long-term average yield of 1,190,000 ML per year as applicable at end of the 2012–13 year (Australian Government Department of the Environment 2014b).

During the  2012–13 year, 1,272,000 ML of Commonwealth environmental water was delivered within MDB. Details on where and how the delivered volume was used is available in the Commonwealth Environmental Water Annual Report 2012–13 (Australian Government Department of the Environment 2014b) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office website.

The Living Murray program was established in 2002 to improve the health of the River Murray system. It is a partnership among the Australian, New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, and Australian Capital Territory governments.

The Living Murray is focusing on improving the environment at the following six icon sites along the river:

The sites have been chosen for their high ecological value. Most are listed as internationally significant wetlands under the Ramsar convention and are of cultural significance to Indigenous people and the broader community. As applicable at end of the 2012–13 year, volume estimated as long-term Cap equivalent recovered was 480,000 ML against the long-term target 500,000 ML (Murray–Darling Basin Authority 2012a). A total of 297,000 ML of water was delivered to Murray River icon sites excluding Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forests, and Hattah Lakes during the 2012–13 year until April 2013 (Murray–Darling Basin Authority 2014b). 

Organisations responsible for water management

Tables A1 to A6 detail the organisations responsible for water management within the MDB region.

 

Table A1  Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Australian Capital Territory within the MDB region
Organisation Responsibilities: 
1.       environmental water management 
2.       water resource management
3.       water availability determinations
4.       water allocation announcements
5.       wholesale water delivery
6.       operate water infrastructure
7.       administer and manage water Legislation and licensing
8.       administer and process water trades 
9.       approve water extraction and use
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
ACTEW Water1         x x x    
Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate  x x x       x x x
National Capital Authority   x              

1 For Canberra water supply.

 

Table A2  Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in New South Wales within the MDB region
Organisation

Responsibilities: 

1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. operate water infrastructure
7. administer and manage water legislation and licensing
8. administer and process water trades 
9. approve water extraction and use

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

NSW Office of Water (NOW)1 x x x x     x x x
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage2  x                
State Water Corporation3         x x   x x
Land and Property Management Authority4             x    
Murrumbidgee Irrigation5         x x   x x
Murray Irrigation Limited5         x x   x x
Jemalong Irrigation5         x x   x x
Coleambally Irrigation Cooperative Ltd5          x x   x x
Western Murray Irrigation Ltd5         x x   x x
Local councils6                  
  1. Administer and process water trades: only entitlement trades.
  2. Environmental water management:  manage held and discretionary environmental water
  3. Administer and process water trades: process only allocation trades.
  4. Administer entitlement register.
  5. Includes also trade prerogatives: process and approve water trades internal to the irrigation corporation. Intrastate trades and interstate trades require State Water Corporation approval for allocation trades and NSW Office of Water approval for entitlement trades.
  6. In New South Wales, local councils hold water access entitlements to abstract water.

 

Table A3  Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Queensland within the MDB region
Organisation

Responsibilities: 

1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. operate water infrastructure
7. administer and manage water legislation and licensing
8. administer and process water trades 
9. approve water extraction and use

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Department of Natural Resources and Mines x x x x x x x x x
SunWater1 x   x x x x   x x
Local councils2 x   x   x x      
  1. Only administers water allocation within water supply schemes they manage and operate.
  2. In Queensland, local councils may hold water licences, supplemented water allocations and/or unsupplemented water allocations.

 

Table A4  Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in South Australia within the MDB region
Organisation

Responsibilities: 

1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. operate water infrastructure
7. administer and manage water legislation and licensing
8. administer and process water trades 
9. approve water extraction and use

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources

 x

x

 x

 x

 x

  x

x

x

x

Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation

 x

 x

 x

x

         
SA Water        

x

x

     
Natural Resources SA Murray–Darling Basin

x

x

 

 

 

 

x

 

x

South East Natural Resources Management Board

x

x

x

 

 

 

x

 

x

Central Irrigation Trust1

 

 

 

 

x

x

 

x

x

Renmark irrigation Trust

 

 

 

 

x

x

 

x

x

Qualco–Sunlands Irrigation Trust

 

 

 

 

x

x

 

x

 

Lower Murray Irrigation

 

 

 

 

x

x

 

 

 

Creeks Pipeline Company Ltd

 

 

 

 

x

x

 

 

 

Local councils2

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

  1. Also includes internal water trade processing and approving within the irrigation trust. Intrastate and interstate trades require the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources's approval.
  2. In South Australia, water access entitlements are held by SA Water, who has retail arrangements with local councils for water abstractions.

 

Table A5  Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Victoria within the MDB region
Organisation

Responsibilities: 

1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. operate water infrastructure
7. administer and manage water legislation and licensing
8. administer and process water trades 
9. approve water extraction and use

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (merged with the Department of Primary Industries on 1 July 2013 to form the Department of Environment and Primary Industries) x x         x    
Victorian Environmental Water Holder x                
Goulburn Murray Water Corporation     x x x x x x x
Lower Murray Water Corporation         x x   x x
Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation         x x x x x
Local councils1                  

1 In Victoria, bulk water access entitlements are held by the water corporations, who have obligations to supply entitlements under the licences referred to in the schedules within their bulk entitlement conversion orders. Water and wastewater management functions under the Victorian Water Act 1989 are performed by statutory water corporations (not by local councils).

 

Table A6  Other organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in the MDB region
Organisation

Responsibilities: 

Comments

1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. operate water infrastructure
7. administer and manage water Legislation and licensing
8. administer and process water trades 
9. approve water extraction and use
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9  
Murray–Darling Basin Authority x x x   x          
Commonwealth Environmental Water Office x                 Manages Commonwealth environmental water holdings under the Australian Government Water Act 2007
Snowy Hydro Ltd x       x x       Transfer water into the MDB