River Murray

The Murray-Darling Basin

The Murray-Darling Basin is located in the south-east of Australia. The Basin covers 1,059,000 square kilometres and drains 14% of Australia's land area. It includes the Australian Capital Territory, and parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

The Basin contains Australia's three longest rivers, the Darling (2,740 km), Murray (2,530 km) and Murrumbidgee (1,690 km) and incorporates a vast network of tributaries, creeks and watercourses, many of which only carry water during times of flood.

The Basin supports a wide range of estuarine, floodplain and wetland environments.  There are around 30,000 wetlands with sixteen listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).

The Basin supports significant agriculture, tourism and other productive industries and is home to more than two million people. Outside the Basin, a further 1.3 million people depend on its water resources, including Adelaide with the largest population base reliant on Basin water resources.

The River Murray

South Australians live in the driest state in the direst inhabited continent in the world. The River Murray is the life-blood of the state, providing essential water for irrigation, industry, domestic and recreational use and our precious wetlands and floodplains.

In South Australia, in an average year, around 75% of the water taken from the River Murray is used for primary production. This includes water for livestock, piggeries, dairies and wineries and for the irrigation of crops such as citrus, stone fruit, almonds, pasture, vegetables and other niche crops.

Water use not related to irrigation in South Australia includes that for towns, metropolitan Adelaide and the environment.

Over time, the health of the River Murray and other Basin water resources has been significantly affected by river regulation, over-use of water resources and drought. 

We need to manage the river carefully to ensure it is able to continue to support healthy environments and productive and resilient industries and communities into the future.

Joint management of the River Murray

Management of the Basin’s water resources is complex and involves five state and territory governments and the Australian Government. However there has been a long history, over more than 100 years, of negotiation and cooperation.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement provides the basis for managing the River Murray system and sets out how water is shared between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia as well as salinity management measures and inter-state trading rules.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority manages the River Murray system on behalf of the states and is also responsible for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan guides governments, regional authorities and communities to sustainably manage and use the waters of the Basin. It has a particular focus on ensuring enough water is provided to the environment. See our section on the Basin Plan for more information.

The South Australian water use from Murray-Darling Basin rivers and groundwater resources is sustainably managed through the SA Murray-Darling Basin Regional NRM Plan and relevant Water Allocation Plans. In addition, there are a wide range of management initiatives and infrastructure projects aimed at restoring river health and supporting regional industries and communities.