National Water Account 2016

Murray–Darling Basin: Water management

Water resource plan areas exist for surface water and groundwater resources across the Murray–Darling Basin region.  These management areas were specified in the Basin Plan adopted in 2012. The Basin Plan guides how water is shared between the various needs in the water resource plan areas. Existing water resource plans covering both surface water and groundwater resources and implemented under the jurisdictional legislative instruments will be aligned with the Basin Plan in future. Currently environmental water is managed as planned environmental water and held environmental water.

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Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation

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

 

Water management plans

Basin plan

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released the draft Murray–Darling Basin plan for public exhibition in November 2011 (MDBA 2016c). Thereafter during the 2012–13 year, consultation with community, stakeholders, and the Basin States and the Territory was undertaken. After the end of the consultations and negotiations, the Basin Plan was adopted by the Commonwealth Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in November 2012.

The Basin Plan aims to optimise social, economic and environmental outcomes arising from the use of the Basin water resource in the national interest. It establishes long-term average sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) in 29 surface water SDL resource units and 81 groundwater SDL resource units. Compliance with the SDLs is required from 1 July 2019. Seven years from 2012–13 to 2018–19 is the transition period from the Cap to SDLs.

Ensuring a balance between the water needs of communities, industries and the environment is key to achieving a healthy working Basin. The Basin Plan sets new long-term average SDLs that reflect an environmentally sustainable level of water use (or 'take'). Based on the Basin Plan assessments, proposed SDLs for surface water and groundwater are 10,873,000 and 3,324,000 ML per year (subject to adjustments in future) respectively for the whole Basin. 

 

Surface water

The 2016 Account provides information on the volume of surface water available for water resource plan areas in the region. This is presented in Figure R11 (Murray–Darling Basin Authority 2016d). More details about the 20 water resource plan areas for surface water and 29 SDL resource units are available in the downloadable table.

 

Figure R11 Water Resource Plan areas for surface water within the Murray–Darling Basin region
Figure R11 Water Resource Plan areas for surface water within the Murray–Darling Basin region

 

Detailed maps for SDL resource units for surface water are available from the MDBA website.

 

Groundwater

The 2016 Account provides information on the volume of groundwater available for water resource plan areas in the region. This is shown in Figure R12 (Murray–Darling Basin Authority 2016d). More details about the 22 water resource plan areas for groundwater and respective SDL resource units are available in the downloadable table.

 

Figure R12 Water Resource Plan areas for groundwater within the Murray–Darling Basin region
Figure R12 Water Resource Plan areas for groundwater within the Murray–Darling Basin region

 

Detailed maps for SDL resource units are available for groundwater and deep groundwater from the MDBA website.

 

Surface water and Groundwater management plans

Details regarding the Basin States' and Territory's water and groundwater management plans in the Murray–Darling Basin region are as follows:

  • Queensland: The water management instruments for surface water are water resource plans and resource operations plans. The plans are available from the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines website. The new Warrego, Paroo, Bullo, and Nebine Water Resource Plan commenced in May 2016. The other plans, as a result of an amendment to the Water Act 2000 (Qld), are to remain in place until 30 June 2019.
  • New South Wales: The water management instruments for surface water are water sharing plans.  Details regarding these plans are available from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Water website. The water sharing plans are generally in place for a 10-year period after which they are reviewed. From time to time they may be suspended due to severe water shortages, under s.49(a) of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW). As stated in the NSW DPI Water website, a number of initial plans that commenced in 2004 have been replaced with new plans, and a number of existing plans have been amended to incorporate smaller plans, with effect from 1 July 2016.
  • Australian Capital Territory:  The Water Resources Act 2007 (ACT) does not provide for statutory water management plans. Instead, the ACT Government has in place its own water management guidelines. Details regarding water management activities in the ACT may be viewed on the Environment and Planning Directorate website, or in the Water management section in the Canberra region account.
  • 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 Victorian Government has in place the Victorian Waterway Management Strategy which determines state waterway health and policy targets. The strategy is available from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Two regional sustainable water strategies applicable to Murray–Darling Basin region areas within Victoria are the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy and the Western Region Sustainable Water Strategy.
  • South Australia: A number of water allocation plans and regional natural resource management plans are in place. All water allocation plans and regional natural resource plans are required to be reviewed within 10 years of adoption under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (SA). Further details regarding these water allocation plans and natural resource plans are available from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, or from the Water management section in the Adelaide region account.
  • Border Groundwater Agreement (Victoria–South Australia): Victoria and South Australia entered into this agreement in 1985. It was subsequently 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.

 

Environmental water management

Environmental water legislation

Environmental water in the Murray–Darling Basin region is governed by the same legislation as surface water, as detailed in surface water legislation (see Water legislation).

Under Section 22 of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth), the Basin Plan must contain an environmental watering plan. The content of the environmental watering plan must also comply with Section 28 of the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth).

Environmental water provisions

The Environmental water provision (EWP) is a part of the Basin Plan. Its purpose is to achieve the best possible environmental outcomes using the increased but still finite amount of water made available by the Basin Plan. The EWP (MDBA 2016a) is designed to restore, protect and nourish the Basin's environment as a whole, as well as specific environmental assets such as wetlands, red gum forests, and floodplains. It will also protect the Basin's biodiversity and its native plants and animals.

Environmental water management information applicable to the Murray–Darling Basin region can be found in environmental water web page of Murray–Darling Basin Authority. Some key features within the Murray–Darling Basin region are stated below:

  • Each jurisdiction has legislative goals for managing surface water and groundwater systems. This includes managing environmental water outcomes in the Murray–Darling Basin region.
  • Within each jurisdiction, the water management plans that have been developed or are still in development address requirements to provide water for the environment by setting aside volumes that cannot be abstracted for other purposes 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.
  • In addition to water management plans, other programmes have been introduced by the Basin, State and Territory Governments and the Australian Government 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 programme, water savings are recovered for the environment through three main components: irrigation infrastructure projects; supply measures (by using water more efficiently); and water purchase (Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources 2016). The water rights acquired by the Australian Government under this programme become part of the Commonwealth environmental water holdings. These holdings are managed by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).
  • Jurisdictions have also delivered significant water recovery programmes over the recent past, such as New South Wales River Bank, Rivers Environmental Restoration Program and the 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 (VEWH)).

Commonwealth environmental water programmes

Information about Commonwealth environmental water management involving the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) can be found on the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office website.

The CEWH can trade Commonwealth environmental water and water holdings subject to conditions in the Australian Government Water Act 2007. Commonwealth environmental water holdings are published in the CEWH's annual report and are updated each month on the Commonwealth environmental water holdings website.

The Living Murray Program was established in 2002 to improve the health of the River Murray system. It is one of Australia's larger river restoration programs. The Living Murray Program focuses on maintaining the health of six icon sites along the river. Most of these sites are listed as internationally significant wetlands under the Ramsar convention and are of cultural significance to Indigenous people and the broader community. The program is a partnership among the Australian, New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, and Australian Capital Territory Governments.

Queensland

The structure of the Queensland water resource plans is primarily aimed at providing planned environmental water rather than using held environmental water. There is no environmental water holder within Queensland. The Australian Government has acquired entitlements in Queensland for environmental benefit.

New South Wales

DPI Water is responsible for water licences and regulation, including oversight of planned environmental water. The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) within the Department of Planning and Environment collaborates with many other partners to manage environmental water in New South Wales, including delivery of allocations from held environmental water and utilising planned environmental water to deliver environmental benefits.

Australian Capital Territory

The Environment and Planning Directorate (EPD) has developed the 2013 Environmental Flow Guidelines. The objectives set in the guidelines are met by releases from the storages, as planned partly regulated surface water management, rather than using held environmental water.

There is no environmental water holder within the Australian Capital Territory and the Commonwealth Government has not purchased any entitlements for environmental benefit within the Australian Capital Territory.

Victoria

The Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) holds entitlements that could be used for environmental benefits. A mixture of planned environmental water and held environmental water is delivered to achieve environmental benefits.

South Australia

The South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) manages environmental water. A mixture of planned environmental water and held environmental water is delivered to improve the ecological health of the River Murray, including wetlands, floodplains, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

 

Cultural water management

The jurisdictional legislative instruments governing water resource management and relevant water management plans including the Basin Plan within the Murray–Darling Basin region allow for beneficial use of water. Beneficial uses include urban water supply, stock and domestic, and community and education. They also include cultural beneficial use which is water that meets aesthetic, recreational, and cultural needs. Section 10.54 of the Basin Plan states that 'A water resource plan must be prepared having regard to the views of Indigenous people with respect to cultural flows'. An example for cultural flow provision is the high security entitlements assigned in the Water Sharing Plan for the Murrumbidgee Regulated River Water Source 2016 for Aboriginal cultural water use.

 

Organisations responsible for water management

Tables R1 to R6 detail the organisations responsible for water management within the Murray–Darling Basin region.

 

Table R1 Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Australian Capital Territory within the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management 
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management of water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
Icon Water1    xxx  
Environment and Planning Directorate xxx   xxx
National Capital Authority x       

1For Canberra water supply.

 

Table R2 Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in New South Wales within the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management of water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
DPI Water1xxxx  xxx
NSW Office of Environment and Heritage2 x        
WaterNSW3    xx xx
Murrumbidgee Irrigation4    xx xx
Murray Irrigation Limited4    xx xx
Jemalong Irrigation4    xx xx
Coleambally Irrigation Cooperative Ltd4    xx xx
Western Murray Irrigation Ltd4    xx xx
Local councils5         

1Focuses on policy, planning, and water market regulation, with oversight of major water infrastructure projects.
2Environmental water management: and discretionary environmental water.
3Leads customer activities.
4Includes also trade prerogatives: process and approve water trades internal to the irrigation corporation. Intrastate trades and interstate trades require Water NSW approval for allocation trades and DPI Water approval for entitlement trades.
5In New South Wales, local councils hold water access entitlements to abstract water.

 

Table R3 Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Queensland within the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
Department of Natural Resources and Minesxxxxxxxxx
SunWater1x xxxx xx
Local councils2x x xx   

1Only administers water allocation within the water supply schemes it manages and operates.
2In Queensland, local councils may hold water licences, supplemented water allocations and/or unsupplemented water allocations.

 

Table R4 Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in South Australia within the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management of water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resourcesxxxxxxxxx
Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Water and the River Murray, and Climate Changexxxx     x
SA Water    xx   
SA Murray–Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Boardxx x   x x
South East Natural Resources Management Boardxxx   x x
SA Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Boardxxx   x x
Central Irrigation Trust1    xx xx
Renmark Irrigation Trust    xx xx
Creeks Pipeline Company Ltd    xx   
Local councils2     x   

1Responsibilities in administration and processing of water trades include 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.

2In South Australia, water access entitlements are held by SA Water, which has retail arrangements with local councils for water abstractions.

 

Table R5 Organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in Victoria within the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management of water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (with effect from 1 January 2015; previously the Department of Environment and Primary Industries))1xx    x  
Victorian Environmental Water Holderx        
Goulburn Murray Water Corporation  xxxxxxx
Lower Murray Water Corporation    xx xx
Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation    xxxxx
Local councils2         

1With effect from 1 January 2015, the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning (DELWP) has been delivering specific functions previously delivered by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI). It is likely that some of the DEPI links provided in the National Water Account will be available through the DELWP website instead of the DEPI website.
2In Victoria, bulk water access entitlements are held by the water corporations, which are obliged 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 R6 Other organisations and their responsibilities in managing water in the Murray–Darling Basin region
OrganisationResponsibilities
 1. environmental water management
2. water resource management
3. water availability determinations
4. water allocation announcements
5. wholesale water delivery
6. water infrastructure operations
7. administration and management of water legislation and licensing
8. administration and processing of water trades 
9. water extraction and use approvals
123456789
Murray–Darling Basin Authorityxxx x    
Commonwealth Environmental Water Office1x        
Snowy Hydro Ltd2x   xx   

1Manages Commonwealth environmental water holdings under the Australian Government Water Act 2007.
2Transfers water into the Murray–Darling Basin region.