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Managing River Murray water resources during dry conditions

In dry years, Basin states (inc. ACT) and the Australian Government work closely together to share the available water between communities, farmers and the environment.

Water sharing plans within each state and territory help make tough decisions at a local scale and arrangements are also in place to ensure that critical human water needs are met when drought conditions become severe.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority determines how much water is available to be shared between the states. This is primarily based on the volumes of water held in the Southern Basin storages and minimum volumes projected to be available over the coming 12 months.

The South Australian Government has been supporting River Murray irrigators to better prepare for the season ahead by providing early water allocation and private carryover announcements, as well as tools such as flow reports and water availability projections.

How has River Murray water management improved since the Millennium Drought?

South Australia learnt from the Millennium Drought, putting us in a better position to manage water during dry times.

The water allocation plan for the River Murray includes rules around how water is allocated, private carryover, trading and the take and use of water.

In line with rules in the water allocation plan, private carryover was announced in mid-April 2019 and mid-April 2020 because opening allocations for 2019-20 and 2020-21 years respectively were projected to be less than 50 per cent.

On 27 April 2023 the Minister for Climate, Environment and Water adopted amendments to the water allocation plan that improves water users’ access to carryover water in dry years.

The amendments were developed as part of an extensive consultation process undertaken by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and the Department for Environment and Water to address stakeholder concerns.

The water allocation plan locks in a commitment to reduce Adelaide's reliance on the River Murray by 50 gigalitres in dry years, in recognition of Adelaide's access to other sources of water. Compared to the Millennium Drought, the commitment boosts irrigation allocations by 8 per cent in dry years and applies whenever irrigators are on allocations of less than 100 per cent and once critical human water needs have been secured.

Adelaide now has access to a wider range of resources including water from the River Murray, Mount Lofty Ranges storages, Adelaide Desalination Plant, water recycling, aquifer storage and recovery and there has been a substantial increase in the number of household rainwater tanks.

South Australia may now store part of its Entitlement in upper River Murray storages for critical human water needs and private carryover in future years. However, South Australia’s stored water must not adversely affect water availability for New South Wales and Victoria.

Currency Creek, Jervois and Lake Albert pipelines have been constructed to provide an alternative supply of water for irrigators and stock and domestic users during periods of reduced water availability and quality.

The South Australian Government is working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Australian, New South Wales, Queensland, Victorian and Australian Capital Territory governments to ensure that the Basin Plan is implemented.

Environmental water from a range of sources, including that recovered under the Basin Plan, is now available to support the river and its environmentally important wetlands in South Australia.

The water market has matured significantly. Water trade allows for the movement of water among users and is an important mechanism for managing the Murray-Darling Basin's scarce water resources. In addition to local water allocation and entitlement markets, individuals can now source water from a range of water products such as interstate entitlements, forwards, entitlement leases and carryover parking.