River Murray

The River Murray is the nation’s most iconic river and supports estuarine, floodplain and wetland environments of national and international significance.  Across the Murray-Darling Basin, there are about 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.

The Murray-Darling system is one of the largest in the world but it carries by far the smallest volume of water of any major river system in the world. It is therefore particularly vulnerable to any degree of change whether by natural causes or consumptive use.

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.

Cross-border coordination and the Basin Plan

The River Murray runs across three states, making it tricky to manage. To manage it effectively, cooperation is required between South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

That’s why the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has prepared the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the integrated and sustainable management of the water resources of the basin. The plan focuses on managing the basin river systems as one and ensuring that enough water is allocated to the environment.

See our section on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in South Australia for more information.

Rehabilitating the river

With its wetlands, floodplains, forests, lakes and estuary, the river is unique and of enormous value to Australia. It supports diverse plants and animals, many of them rare or endangered and includes numerous wetlands of international importance.

Two large programs are underway to improve the sustainability of the River Murray in South Australia.

  1. The Australian Government’s Water for the Future is funding our state’s 10-year $610 million Murray Futures program. The funds are going towards:
  2. The Living Murray is returning water flows to the environment at six ‘icon sites’ along the river, three of which are in South Australia. Check out river restoration and environmental water projects for more.

Through these activities and more, we’re helping to address the water quality issues the river is experiencing, especially now, post-drought and at a time of very high water use and demand.

Enacting river health in legislation

The River Murray Act 2003 ensures the river is protected from activities that could affect its health, while recognising its social and economic importance. A key feature of the Act is the general duty of care (564kb pdf) provision that applies to all river users.

The Act integrates protection of the river into other legislation that affects the River Murray system, helping ensure that it is a priority in decision-making in South Australia. See our River Murray Act 2003 overview (1.06mb pdf) for more, including information about the River Murray protection area (257kb pdf), or check out our summary of the Act’s objects and objectives (319kb pdf). There’s a plain English introduction to the Act in our users’ first guide (374kb pdf).

The Act annual reports are available for you to download.

The Minister for the River Murray is required to prepare an implementation strategy for the Act. The first implementation strategy (2.4mb pdf) was finalised in 2006 and a review (1.33mb pdf) of that strategy was released in 2011 following a period of consultation, including an online survey that closed in June 2011. Results of the survey were used to generate statistics and provide examples for the review. A new implementation strategy is now being developed.

The Act also outlines a referral system (559kb pdf), whereby the Minister has the power to review applications for certain types of activities. You might need the Minister’s approval to undertake an activity that could impact on the river. Select one of the following referral assessment policies for more:

The Natural Resources Management Act 2004 enables water allocation and licensing on the River Murray so that water extracted from the river can be managed sustainably.

River Murray Water Allocation Framework

This framework determines how water available to South Australia under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement of the Commonwealth Water Act 2007 is shared between the different consumptive uses, including irrigation and other diversion entitlement holders, the environment and critical human water needs. 

View the framework and current and historical water allocations.