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Water for the environment

What is water for the environment?

Water allocated purely to the environment and not for extraction is called water for the environment.

Since European settlement, wetlands and floodplains across the Murray-Darling Basin including South Australia have undergone major modification and widespread degradation. 

Declines of iconic and keystone flora and fauna species can be attributed to river regulation and landscape scale changes. 

Natural flood events, now occur infrequently, and their magnitude and duration are greatly reduced, causing deterioration in the condition of wetland and floodplain ecosystems.

Water for the environment is water specifically allocated to meet the ecological needs of plant and animal communities to survive and reproduce. Provision of adequate water for the environment is a critical element in restoring the Murray-Darling Basin’s long-term health.

Water for the environment provides many benefits, including keeping the Murray Mouth open, flushing salt from the system and providing additional water to precious wetlands and floodplains, which need a varied flow regime to thrive.

How is Water for the environment held? 

The water is held by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and the South Australian Government. 

There are two primary environmental water holders in the Murray-Darling Basin: 

  • The Living Murray (TLM) supported by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)
  • The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) supported by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO), within the Commonwealth Department of Environment (DoE)

Other sources of water for the environment which provide environmental benefits to the River Murray in South Australia include:  

  • South Australian Environmental Water Reserve
  • South Australian River Murray wetland water access entitlements (previously Class 9) (known as the Ministers Wetland Water Licence)
  • Unregulated flows within the River Murray system
  • Private donations from non-government organisations (NGOs) and irrigators


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