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The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is the River Basin Organisation which

manages the Murray-Darling Basin.

Its vision is to achieve a healthy working basin (social, cultural, economic and
environmental) through the integrated management of water resources for the
long term benefit of the Australian Community.
Its mission states: we lead the planning and management of Basin Water
Resources in collaboration with partner governments and the community.

First a few important facts about the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling
Basin has a highly variable flow regime, as can be seen from the graph on the
top left of the slide. This includes rivers that do not always connect and drain in
inland terminal lakes. The long-term annual flow discharge is 11km3 per year,
compared to 420km3 per year for the Ayeyardawy river. Most of the flows come
from the southern part, which contains many reservoirs and is highly regulated.
There are cycles of floods and drought, which poses challenges for agricultural
production, which forms an important component of the basin: 50% of Australias
irrigated agriculture, includes annual crops like rice, cotton, but also perennials
like fruit & grapes, dairy, etc. Other dryland agriculture includes floodplain
grazing, wheat, canola, etc.
The landmass is 14% of total Australian landmass (1 million km2), and contains 3
of its longest rivers: the Murray, the Darling, the Murrumbidgee. The eastern
border is the great Australian Divide, so all these rivers turn inland and flow east,
to drain in the southern ocean not far from Adelaide. The Murray is highly
regulated and contributes to most of the annual flows. Apart from agriculture, the
Basin is also important for many significant wetland sites, including 16 that are
recognised internationally.
The Basin is home to over 2 million people. 18% of aboriginal people also live in
the Basin, which crosses 5 state borders and is governed by Queensland in the
north, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in the middle, and
Victoria in the south, with South Australia being the state west where the Murray
mouth ends in the ocean. The federal government also has legislative power, but
more about that later.

From the beginning of last century, the fact that the Murray river forms a state
boundary meant that water use had to be shared; this lead to the formation of the
River Murray Commission (NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the
Commonwealth) for the operation of the regulated river, and to ensure that
Adelaide could receive sufficient drinking water. Large scale clearing of the land
for agriculture lead to salinity problems emerging in the 1970ies. At the end of the
80ies, the Murray Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) was created. This was the
first true River Basin Organization which included all the states and territories of
the Basin, as well as the Commonwealth (federal) government.
This RBO operated along the consensus model and was responsible for the
establishment of many salinity interception schemes. A toxic algal bloom, 2000
km long lead to the realization that there was over-allocation of irrigation and
resulted in the cap on diversions (maximum limit) and establishment of water
markets, initially within the states only, and since 1998 also between the states.
The salinity strategy was now revisited to extend across the entire Basin scale
(2001). In 2004, when the Millennium drought was starting to bite, the National
Water Initiative (NWI) was started for national scale water reform. It was also the
first step in water recovery for the environment in the Murray (The Living Murray
initiative, the precursor to the Basin Plan). The NWI was followed by the
Commonwealth Water Act 2007 (giving the Commonwealth more decisionmaking power for managing water in the Murray-Darling Basin) and the
establishment of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (a centralized RBO model).
The MDBC was subsumed in the MDBA, and the new RBO was charged with the
development of the Basin Plan. This plan became law in 2012, and is now being

implemented until 2019.

The agreement by the states to the Basin Plan and the centralized decision
making for its creation and implementation required the law maker to recognize
two reporting and accountability mechanisms:
1.The Basin Plan would be decided by the Federal Minister for
Environment/Water (green box top left corner), to whom the Authority (and its
MDBA office) is reporting directly (Purple box bottom left). This mechanism is
supported by a number of advisory groups, which contain members from the
states. Because MDBA has a coordinating role, it is recognized that many
aspects of the Basin Plan require implementation by the states and this
consulting mechanism is therefore very important.
2.The joint programs, which were inherited from the MDBC (consensus model
RBO) continue to report to the Ministerial Council (Blue box top right corner).
During MDBC, this Council was the decision-making body, but now the Council
advises the Commonwealth Minister who has the power to make final decisions
(usually he only endorses what the Council decides, but if the decisions conflict
with the Basin Plan, he can override them). The Basin Officials Committee has
high level representatives from each jurisdiction (Light blue box bottom middle),
and advises Ministerial Council. The Basin Community Committee is an advisory
group made up of representatives of the communities living in the Basin (sandy
coloured box bottom right). They have no decision-making power.
As the arrows suggest, there are interactions and communication between most
of these groups, but formal reporting mechanisms are hierarchical in nature. The
advisory groups supporting both the Authority and also Basin Officials Committee

are not depicted in this diagram, to avoid too much complexity.

The roles and responsibilities of MDBA can all be grouped into these five
categories: planning and coordinating, regulating, evaluating and review,
operating the River Murray, enhancing the knowledge base, including an
educational role for the community.
Note that MDBA has on the one hand a regulating role, on the other it
coordinates and collaborates with the states. There is a healthy tension between
the two, but there are other Authorities within Australia that have similar dual
roles. Also it evaluates the effectiveness of Basin Plan implementation. While
these roles and responsibilities are part of the Basin Plan, there are underpinning
activities funded by joint programs that are supportive of these objectives. They
include the salinity and water quality management strategy, joint management of
significant assets (The Living Murray program), hydrological modeling, etc.

The Basin Plan is one policy tool that is embedded in the broader national water
reform (but one of the most important ones).
The MDBA works together with a number of other Commonwealth Agencies, and
provides one tool (Basin Plan) for implementation in a suite of reform activities
(management tools), which include water markets, water accounting and
nationally accredited water resource plans.
Data collaboration exists with Geoscience Australia (spatial data, including
remote sensing), the Bureau of Meteorology (rainfall, runoff, hydrometric and
water quality data), CSIRO and universities (modeling and research). Some of
this data sharing is enshrined in legislation.
MDBA also works with catchment management authorities (these operate at the
smaller regional scale, below state level), but mostly through the state
governments. Working with communities includes localism; this means having a
dialogue with local communities to invite them to contribute their knowledge on
water issues to plan for sustainable water management solutions.

The Basin Plan, established as a result of the Water ACT 2007 has five key
components and a number of smaller components:
Environmental watering plans (one year time frame) and Basin-wide watering
strategy (5 year time frame) - Chapter 8
Water resource plans (to be developed with the states; 5 year time frame)
Chapter 10
Water quality and salinity management plan Chapter 9
Water trading rules Chapter 12
Critical human water needs Chapter 11
Monitoring and Evaluation Chapter 13
Other Chapters in the Basin Plan are:
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Basin water resources and the context for their use
Chapter 3 Water resource plan areas and water accounting periods
Chapter 4 Identification and management of risks to Basin water resources
Chapter 5 Management objectives and outcomes to be achieved by Basin Plan
Chapter 6 Water that can be taken (sustainable diversion limits)
Chapter 7 Adjustments of SDLs (sustainable diversion limits)

Adjustment of SDL takes up a lot of hydrological modeling resources, as well as

constraints management (these tasks will be completed in the next two years.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has two funding streams:

1.Joint program funding (contributions by all jurisdictions): This was established
when the RBO was still a consensus-based model (MDBC), and was inherited
and reviewed when the new RBO was established. It includes ongoing
management activities that existed before the Basin plan such as salinity
interception, joint management of significant assets (The Living Murray program),
and River Murray operations. Some of these activities were abolished as part of
the review, because they were seen as now being carried out under the Basin
Plan (the other funding stream).
2.Commonwealth funding: this federal funding is to guarantee the creation and
implementation of the Basin Plan.
Both funding mechanisms are tied to the governance arrangements (see Slide 4);
they are in place for the long term, but the amounts are decided annually as part
of a four year planning cycle, and they can be changed depending on available

Despite a set back with the release of the guide to the Basin Plan, when there
was significant community backlash due to insufficient engagement at the time, it
has now been legislated and is on track for being implemented. The focus on
community engagement has included concerns on social-economic implications
of returning water to the environment, and MDBA is working actively with
stakeholders to make sure they are not disadvantaged as a result.
The change from consensus based model to centralized model has been
successful, and state governments now recognize the need for a Basin-wide plan
to manage the rivers.
Despite the successes, there is ongoing concern about what the benefits will be
of returning water to the environment, given the significant investment of water
buy-backs. It will take time before the outcomes will be observed, and the
benefits can be demonstrated, because there are always response time-lags
between watering events and ecological responses. This is the social licence
mentioned in the slide: community acceptance of the value of improved
ecological condition.
Once the Basin plan is implemented, there will be a need to continue
coordination, management and monitoring functions. But the question will be if
these functions are sufficient to maintain the MDBA or whether they can be taken
over by the Federal Department of Environment. We will need to get clarity into
what are the enduring responsibilities of the Authority and make sure funding will

be secured long term.

The river Basin Organisation in Australia was created for governance purposes
and the sharing of the river between multiple state jurisdictions. Because water is
scarce in Australia, it was necessary to manage it in the most efficient way; this
has lead to creating water markets and other innovative management
In the 1990ies, the focus of water management was inclusive of land
management practices, and the boundary between terrestrial and freshwater
management was smaller. With the Millennium drought (2002-2012), the focus
was increasingly shifting towards water and freshwater ecologies only, because
this was the highest priority. One could question is this is fully integrated water
management, because the effects of erosion, sedimentation and nutrient run-off
is also related to land use. Revegetation for example is not considered at the
Basin scale, but could make a significant contribution to a more sustainable
On the other hand, the consensus model which was used at that time often
lacked ambitious targets, because every jurisdiction had to agree to it. Now, with
the jurisdictions having signed on to federal legislation (centralised model), the
decision lies with the federal minister, and the Basin Plan has much more
ambitious management targets.