Murray–Darling Basin overview

  • Total annual rainfall was below average for the third consecutive year.
  • End-of-year storage volume increased to 40% full due to high rainfall in February–April 2020.
  • Net water taken for consumptive use was 6 200 GL, 17% less than last year.


Climate and Water

Map of Murray–Darling Basin region showing the spatial distribution of relative rainfall in decile categories for 2019–20. Annual rainfall was average to below average across most of the region. Annual rainfall was very much below average in the region's northeast, including Toowoomba, and in the southwest around Broken Hill and Menindee. Key aspects of the annual rainfall map are described in the text below the figure.
Annual rainfall deciles for the Murray–Darling Basin region during 2019–20


  • Total annual rainfall was 368 mm, well below average for the third consecutive year.
  • Rainfall was very low during the latter half of 2019. The below-average rainfall throughout July–December 2019 was influenced by a positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole, one of the strongest on record, as well as a negative phase of the Southern Annular Mode at the end of 2019 (see the Bureau's 2019–20 Climate Report for more information).
  • There was some rainfall relief during the early part of 2020, particularly during February–April, as tropical moisture off the northwest coast of Australia moved across the continent and combined with southern cold fronts to produce high rainfall across the region.


Map of Murray–Darling Basin region showing the status of each storage at 30 June 2020. The storages are colour coded into nine categories of volume as a proportion of capacity. Most of the storages in the region's northeast are less than 20% full. Most of the storages in the southeast are over 30% full, including the major storages of Hume, Eildon, and Dartmouth (which was over 50% full). An inset line graph shows the time series of percentage-full storage volume between 1 July 2013–30 June 2020. Murray–Darling Basin storages at 30 June 2020 were 40% full, more than last year.
Percentage-full volume on 30 June 2020 for each storage and total storage volume from 2013–2020 (inset)


  • Total storage in the region increased from 32% full at 30 June 2019 to 40% full at 30 June 2020, the first annual increase in storage in three years.
  • Most of the storages remained low, particularly in the northern part of the Murray–Darling Basin where storages were still less than 20% full at 30 June 2020.
  • Storage volumes increased after February 2020 for the remainder of the 2019–20 year following higher rainfall across the region during February–April 2020; however, many areas have experienced prolonged dry conditions and by the end of 2019–20, significant follow-up rainfall was needed to replenish these storages.


Water sources and supply

Doughnut graphs showing breakdown of sources of water lawfully accessible for take and a breakdown of water users in the Murray–Darling Basin region. A total of 9,936 GL of water was lawfully accessible for take in the 2019–20 year. Surface water and groundwater made up 70% and 30% of total accessible water respectively. 55% of total water accessible was taken by individual users, 5% was taken for town supply, and 3% was taken under basic rights. 37% of the accessible water was not used.
Water accessible for take by source and use category in 2019–20


  • Total volume of water lawfully accessible for consumptive use was 9 936 GL, 7% less than last year.
  • This decrease reflects the continued dry conditions and low water availability across the region over the last three years.
  • Surface water was the primary water source, particularly for agriculture, due to ease of access and low abstraction cost.
  • 6 200 GL of water accessible for use was taken, mostly for irrigation and agricultural purposes.


Water trade

Map of Murray–Darling Basin region showing interstate allocation trades. 698,016 ML of net allocation water was traded from Victoria to South Australia. 88,010 ML of net allocation water was traded from New South Wales to Victoria. 9,369 ML of net allocation water was traded from New South Wales to South Australia. 190 ML of net allocation water was traded from New South Wales to Queensland.
Direction and volume of interstate allocation trades in the Murray–Darling Basin in 2019–20


  • The Murray–Darling Basin accounts for around 90% of Australia's water allocation trade and 60% of Australia's water entitlement trade.
  • In 2019–20, water market turnover in the Murray–Darling Basin was $6.6 billion, more than 50% higher than the previous year. This increase was driven by record entitlement and allocation prices due to low water availability and high demand during the latter half of 2019.
  • Most of the region's water trade is related to surface water. The volume of trade in surface water allocations was 8% higher than last year, which was influenced by the improved rainfall conditions across the region in early 2020.
  • South Australia and Queensland were net importers of allocation water, while Victoria and New South Wales were net exporters. A similar trend of net allocation trade to South Australia was observed during the previous five years.