Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was prepared by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and signed into law by the Commonwealth Minister for Water on 22 November 2012, five years after it was mandated in the Commonwealth Water Act 2007.
The Basin Plan and associated documents can be found on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority website.
The Commonwealth Water Act 2007 was passed in Parliament with bipartisan support, incorporating the need to determine a new sustainable limit of water extraction from the Basin.
The Basin Plan Intergovernmental Agreement and associated funding agreement
The Basin Plan Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and associated funding agreement outline the participating jurisdictions' commitments and responsibilities.
On 13 June 2013 Victoria signed the IGA and the associated funding agreement to settle the responsibilities and costs of putting the Basin Plan into action.
In the process leading up to the IGA, the Victorian Government strongly negotiated that the Basin Plan should achieve environmental outcomes through the smarter use of water, rather than taking a specific volume of water away from irrigators and communities.
The IGA, as an understanding between governments, provides more certainty for Basin communities.
The IGA states that implementation of the Basin Plan must be cost effective and support the dual interests of Basin health and sustainable, productive irrigation.
The agreement states that no water entitlements will be undermined or compulsorily acquired under the Basin Plan.
Overview of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The Basin Plan sets legal limits on the amount of surface water and groundwater that can be extracted from the Basin for consumptive use from 1 July 2019 onwards. The sustainable diversion limits (SDLs) for surface water are set at a 2,750 gigalitre reduction on current extraction levels. For groundwater, there is an SDL of 3,334 gigalitres per year set on groundwater extraction across the basin.
Environmental works and measures are an effective way in a regulated system like the Murray to replicate the amount and length of natural floods and the complementary restoration actions required to achieve maximum environmental benefits.
The Basin Plan allows for up to 650 gigalitres of the 2,750 gigalitre sustainable diversion limit reduction to be accounted for through improved use and management of environmental water. Victoria is working with other Basin states and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority toward developing a sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism that calculates the comparative value of works and measures in improving river health.
An example of how introducing infrastructure and targeted watering can have greater benefits for the environment compared to taking more water out of the consumptive pool is works recently completed at Hattah Lakes, which can replicate the environmental benefits of 100,000 megalitre natural floods using just 5,000 to 10,000 megalitres . For more information on Hattah, go to the Mallee Catchment Management Authority website. The Commonwealth Government has agreed to fund works and measures that will contribute to meeting the Basin Plan sustainable diversion limit.
Victoria has also received Commonwealth funding for on-farm water funding opportunities to help irrigators maximise their productivity and flexibility in step with system irrigation upgrades.
The $100 million Victorian Farm Modernisation Program will increase water efficiency and productivity across approximately 54,000 hectares, and create 53 gigalitres of water savings for agriculture and the environment.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan Constraints Management Strategy
As well as the agreed 2,750 gigalitre sustainable diversion limit, the Basin Plan allows for a potential further 450 gigalitres of water to be recovered by 2024 for the environment through removing operational and physical constraints in the river system. To develop the feasibility of this, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released a high level Constraints Management Strategy at the end of 2013; Basin governments including Victoria need to consider proposals to address constraints by 2016.
The Commonwealth Government has confirmed the removal of any constraints needs to be 'socio-economically neutral' and have no adverse third party impacts.
The Commonwealth Government has agreed it will fund works required under its constraints management strategy.
Water recovery in Victoria
Northern Victorians have already done their heavy lifting for the environment, with at least 761 gigalitres returned or committed to the environment as part of Victoria's contribution to the Basin Plan.
Key water recovery initiatives from investment in infrastructure in northern Victoria include:
- $2 billion for the Goulburn Murray Water Connections Project with 214 gigalitres to go to the Commonwealth (part of the 751 gigalitres above).
- Purchase of the Wimmera Irrigation System's 23 gigalitres of water.
- $103 million for Sunraysia modernisation with 7 gigalitres to go to the Commonwealth.
- $100 million for the Victorian Farm Modernisation Program which commenced in 2013
- Strategic purchase of 25–50 gigalitres aligned with the rollout of the Goulburn Murray Water Connections Project.
Environmental works proposals progress to business case
The Victorian Government has been given $14.3 million funding over 2013-15 to progress nine projects that together could help meet the remaining Victorian water contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The Federal Government has approved funding to go into more detailed analysis of several environmental water works projects in the Victorian Murray-Darling Basin that have potential to provide offsets to the Basin Plan sustainable diversion limit volume through more efficient use of water.
Works can provide a better outcome for the environment, particularly during dry years, so water can go directly to areas of high environmental value by delivering flows an ecosystem requires but that are often not possible under river regulation.
Works can deliver and hold water in specifically targeted areas on the river floodplain that would otherwise only receive inundation through natural high flow events. This enables natural flood dependent ecological processes to occur, even under regulated river conditions.
The projects aim to improve environmental outcomes at large Murray floodplain areas and key River Red Gum state parks. Water delivery through works will improve forest, river and wetland habitats, providing conditions for successful feeding, breeding, and migration of native fish, reptiles, birds, frogs, and insects.
The next phase of the program includes detailed design of the on-ground infrastructure for water delivery, and modelling of what sustainable diversion limit offset volumes can be produced by the projects. Final calculation of the sustainable diversion limit offsets will be undertaken once the Murray-Darling Basin Authority establishes the method for calculating sustainable diversion limit offsets, as required by the Basin Plan.
The projects are being developed by the Mallee and North Central Catchment Management Authorities in consultation with local landholders, interest groups and stakeholders, river operators, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and the South Australian, New South Wales, and Commonwealth governments.
The projects are situated at Lindsay Island, Wallpolla Island, the northern Hattah Lakes, Belsar-Yungera Islands, Gunbower Forest National Park, Guttrum and Benwell State Forests, Nyah Park, Vinifera Park, and Burra Creek.
A summary of work completed to date on the projects through the Commonwealth funded Victorian Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Works and Measures Feasibility Program is available below.