Efficiency Measures

​​​​​What are ‘Efficiency Measures’?

Efficiency measures are activities that change water use practices and save water. They are integral to the Basin Plan’s sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism, which is in place to benefit the environment and communities across the Murray-Darling Basin.

Efficiency measures make more water available for the environment through water efficiency projects in agriculture, water delivery, industrial and urban settings. Projects such as upgrading irrigation systems, lining water delivery channels or installing water meters are eligible, along with water productivity improvements in manufacturing or irrigated agriculture, or changes to urban water management practices to reduce water use.

Efficiency measures projects are required under The Basin Plan 2012 (Cth) to have neutral or positive social and economic impacts.

Water saved through efficiency projects will be used as environmental water; forming part of the Commonwealth environmental water holdings.

The evaluation of proposed efficiency measures projects will take into account the contribution the proposed water savings would make to the enhanced environmental outcomes set out in Schedule 5 of the Basin Plan.

Current Programs

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Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program

The Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program (the program) is a new Basin-wide initiative to recover environmental water through efficiency measures projects.

Participation in the program is voluntary. In return for funding water efficiency infrastructure projects, participants transfer an agreed volume of water savings to the Commonwealth in the form of eligible water rights. Maximum funding for each project will be calculated at 1.75 times the market price of the water rights transferred to the Commonwealth. Any additional water savings generated by the infrastructure upgrades can be retained by the program participant.

$1.4 billion has been set aside at this time from an overall budget of $1.575 billion from the Water for the Environment Special Account (WESA) to fund the recovery of 450 GL of water through efficiency measures projects.

The program does not involve direct purchase of water rights by the Commonwealth and is designed to deliver neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes for the Basin and its residents.

Participation in the program is through a public open tender. Information on the open tenders can be found on the Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program website.

Tenders are now open for participation in the program.

Project Partners

Project proposals are invited from water rights holders and agents with the authority to commit water rights holders. Project Partners can directly enter into an agreement with the government to deliver an approved water efficiency project valued at over $1 million. Any urban, industrial, off-farm or metering proposal that meet the eligibility criteria are welcome. Large-scale on-farm projects will be eligible in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

Delivery Partners

Delivery Partners are organisations that can provide project management and implementation services for water rights holders who wish to develop and deliver water efficiency infrastructure projects. Individual projects may be valued at more or less than $1 million. Delivery Partners will make sure that proposals are practically and technically feasible. Delivery Partners will work with participants to implement their projects and manage their administration.

Entities with water efficiency proposals valued at less than $1 million must make them through a delivery partner. Proposals accepted via a Delivery Partner can be for urban, industrial, off-farm or metering projects Basin-wide. On-farm projects will be eligible in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

A list of Delivery Partners and links to their websites will be available on the department’s website following the first tender process. Each Delivery Partner will have a page on their website outlining the services that they offer proponents and their administration fees.

Tenders for participation in the program and the eligibility requirements can be found at AusTender.

Commonwealth On-Farm Further Irrigation Efficiency (COFFIE) program pilot

The Commonwealth On-Farm Further Irrigation Efficiency (COFFIE) South Australian pilot program currently provides funding for irrigation infrastructure upgrades and other on-farm water efficiency activities in the South Australia Murray region. It allows water to be recovered to improve river health while maintaining or improving farm productivity. In return, irrigators transfer the water rights they are confident of saving from the project to the Commonwealth. A dditional savings are retained by the irrigator.

The South Australian pilot of COFFIE commenced in September 2016 and is being delivered by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board. Over 50 on-farm projects in the South Australia Murray region are being managed or have been completed. The pilot has been crucial in developing and testing the design of the recently launched efficiency measures program, the Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure program. It is expected the pilot program will be closed to new applications on 5 October 2018.

Supporting the recovery of efficiency measures

The Australian Government is implementing a package of commitments to complement and further support full implementation and delivery of the Basin Plan.

The package includes initiatives to support the recovery of efficiency measures. Efficiency measures initiatives include the launch of the new Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure program on 13 July 2018.

National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin

The Australian Government has committed to linking payments for the delivery of supply measures under the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism to the roll-out of efficiency measures.

These arrangements will be described in the performance milestones under funding agreements with Basin States.

Water for the Environment Special Account reviews

The Water Act 2007 provides for two independent reviews of the WESA in 2019 and 2021. These reviews will assess progress that has been made towards recovering environmental water and whether the funding in the account is sufficient to meet its objectives.

Independent review of Efficiency Measures

At the request of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council), an independent review by Ernst & Young (EY) was commissioned in 2017 on how best to design, target and resource efficiency measures for the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment. EY drew on the knowledge and experience of an Advisory Panel and engaged extensively with stakeholders across the Basin to prepare the report. The independent analysis was delivered to the Ministerial Council and publically released on 19 January 2018. The report identified that the recovery of 450 GL of efficiency measures water is possible in a socio‑economically neutral or positive way.




File size

Terms of Reference for Analysis of Efficiency Measures PDF


86 KB

Terms of Reference for Analysis of Efficiency Measures DOCX


27 KB

EY Report: Analysis of Efficiency Measures in the Murray-Darling Basin PDF


5.3 MB

If you have difficulty accessing these files, visit web accessibility for assistance.

Want to know more?

Further information on the relationship between the Sustainable Diversion Limit and efficiency measures can be found on the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) website. The MDBA is also required to maintain a register of the volume of water recovered by efficiency measures programs. This register is in accordance with The Basin Plan 2012 (Cth), and available on the MDBA’s website.

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