Progress towards meeting environmental needs under the Basin Plan

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment regularly publishes progress of environmental water recovery to improve the health of the river system under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Current recoveries are as at 31 December 2020

‘Bridging the Gap’ water recovery

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan (Basin Plan) sets out a local water recovery target for each Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) resource unit area along with shared water recovery targets for SDL resource units within a zone. The recovery target must be met by recovering water from within the SDL resource unit and must be fully recovered to successfully ‘bridge the gap’. Water recovery includes Commonwealth and state water recoveries. All volumes reported on this page are expressed in gigalitres per year long term average yield (GL/y LTAAY), with the shorthand GL/y used for clarity.

Surface water recoveries including the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism

The Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) amendment instrument commenced in law on the 13 January 2018.

As set out in the Basin Plan, the SDLAM adds flexibility to the SDLs by allowing equivalent environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan to be achieved through more efficient use of environmental water (Supply Measures) and further environmental outcomes to those agreed in the Basin Plan that achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes (Efficiency Measures).

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) assessment of the package of supply measures nominated by state governments, allows the SDLs in the southern Murray-Darling Basin to be adjusted upwards by 605 GL/y, reducing environmental water recovery by this amount. The Basin Plan Amendment (SDL Adjustments) Instrument 2017 which became law on 13 January 2018 allows for a full supply contribution of 605 GL/y LTAAY to be distributed across the southern basin.

Water recovery and cap factors

There are over 150 different types of water entitlement within the Murray-Darling Basin. Cap factors are an accounting tool that enable different types of entitlement to be counted on equal terms to track the volumes of water that have been recovered. These factors are known as long-term diversion limit equivalent factors (cap factors). As such, all water recovery figures are expressed in gigalitres per year long term average annual yield (GL/y LTAAY) terms. Cap factors are a conversion factor which enable water recovery to be measured in a way that is consistent and accurate across the Basin. They are used to determine the amount of waterrecovered against recovery targets in each SDL resource unit, as required under the Basin Plan.

Basin states have been updating planning assumptions and calculation methods incorporating the most recent information including how much water has been recovered for the environment, historical water patterns, climatic data and trade information. The process has resulted in some changes to the remaining gap bridging water recovery volumes. The update will be complete when all cap factors are revised, and state Water Resource Plans (WRPs) are accredited by the Minister. To date, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia have updated their cap factors. WRPs have been accredited by the Minister for Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and the ACT.

Data is shown with updated factors consistent with accredited WRPs or is shown with updated factors for New South Wales.

Water recovery and updated Queensland factors

The Queensland Government, in conjunction with the MDBA, have reviewed and updated the Queensland cap factors based on the best available information from new hydrological models and other unmodelled estimates. The models are based on updated streamflow, climate data and improved modelling techniques. The new models support all three of Queensland’s surface water WRPs, which have been accredited as consistent with the Basin Plan.

Unlike the other state updates, the Queensland cap factor update process categorises entitlement classes using more detailed information about the water source. The revised factors are determined by water availability and rules of take and considers the location of a licence within the catchment. This has meant that some licences in Queensland have unique revised factors.

Water recovery and updated New South Wales factors

The NSW Government in conjunction with the MDBA have updated the planning assumptions and calculation methods used for NSW factors. The new methods incorporate the best available information including how much water has been recovered for the environment, historical water use patterns, climatic data and trade information. Updated factors were released for public consultation and were agreed to by the MDBA for adoption in water recovery estimates on 13 February 2019. These draft cap factors are expected to be finalised when WRPs are accredited by the Minister, which may affect the final volume needed to complete water recovery.

As part of the updated NSW factors work and planning assumptions, the Intersecting Streams SDL Resource Unit baseline diversion limit was re-estimated and a factor of 1.0 was determined for the entitlement of 9.72 GL/y. This recovery is included towards the Bridging the Gap recovery.

Recent updates to New South Wales factors for unregulated river systems

In the June 2020 quarter, there was a revision to the NSW cap factor for Murrumbidgee unregulated water sources. The change related to unregulated water recovery in NSW only. A very small portion, three per cent, of NSW’s water recovery volumes is from unregulated sources. The unregulated water sources differ from regulated water sources because they do not have storages and water cannot be ordered. Instead, extraction is governed by the conditions at the pump site.

The method used to revise the factor is consistent with the independently reviewed method used to update NSW factors in 2018 and meets Basin Plan requirements to use the best available information. It incorporates NSW unmetered use estimates based on improved information on crop areas survey and assessed irrigation requirements. The change in factor primarily affects state held water recoveries.

Water recovery and updated Victorian factors

The Victorian Government in conjunction with the MDBA have reviewed and updated the Victorian factors based on the best available models and data. An Independent Review Panel engaged by the MDBA have endorsed the revised factors and they were published for use in the later part of 2019. The updated factors have been used to update water recovery estimates.

All Victorian Water Resource Plans have now been accredited.

Water recovery and updated South Australian factors

The South Australian state government in conjunction with the MDBA have reviewed and updated the South Australian cap factors based on the best available models and data. An Independent Review Panel engaged by the MDBA has endorsed the revised factors presented by the South Australian Department for Environment and Water. The review recognised inherent difficulties and uncertainties in modelling the dynamic and complex utilisation of entitlements. Updated factors were published by the South Australian government on 13 January 2020. All WRPs for South Australia have been accredited.

Summary of surface water recovery

Water recovery tables are published with summaries below:

Water recovery data tables using accredited WRPs and updated LTAAY factors for NSW

The data consists of factors in accredited WRPs and updated factors issued by NSW which are not yet accredited. The data provides an indicative view of the volume of water recovered once all WRPs are accredited.

  Target Water Recovery Progress Water Recovery Remaining
Murray-Darling Basin
(all units GL/y)
Local Target Shared Target Recovery towards Bridging the Gap Apportioned supply contribution Local remaining recovery task Shared remaining recovery task Remaining recovery task
Total Basin 1668.0 1012.0 2106.4 605.0 31.1 14.9 46.0

All water recovery figures are expressed in gigalitres per year long term average yield (GL/y) terms.

Efficiency measures contribution

Efficiency measures are activities that change water use practices and save water. They are integral to the Basin Plan’s SDLAM.

A minimum of 62 GL/y of additional water savings through efficiency projects must be recovered for the full 605 GL/y  supply contribution to be used. Efficiency measures of around 2.1 GL/y have been secured or agreed in funding contracts. Currently 1.9 GL/y  is registered with the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder (CEWH). This volume contributes to the required 62 GL/y efficiency contribution.

The total surface water SDL for the Basin water resources as at reference time, the time when the Basin Plan first took effect (24 November 2012), is 10,873 GL/y. Consistent with the Basin Plan, this figure may only be adjusted through the SDLAM by a net five per cent, i.e. up or down by a net maximum of 543 GL/y. Noting that the net five per cent applies at the Basin-scale, individual SDL resource units may increase or decrease by greater than five per cent, as long as the net Basin-wide SDL remains within the five per cent range.

Murray-Darling Basin
(all units GL/y)
Target Registered water recovery Contracted water recovery Recovery remaining (registered)
Total Basin 62.0 1.9 0.1 60.1

All water recovery figures are expressed in gigalitres per year long term average yield (GL/y) terms and rounded to nearest decimal place.

Efficiency measures water recovery

The SDLAM requires efficiency measures to be progressively developed to recover an additional 450 GL/y consistent with the Basin Plan legislative requirement to achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes across the Basin by 30 June 2024. The 62 GL/y Efficiency Contribution referred to above contributes to this larger target.

The Australian Government is committed to efficiency measure projects to improve the efficiency of water delivery systems.

Murray-Darling Basin
(all units in GL/y)
Target Total Contracted Water Recovery Total Water Recovery registered to the CEWH Recovery remaining (registered)
Total Basin 450.0 0.1 1.9 448.1

All water recovery figures are expressed in gigalitres long term average annual yield (GL LTAAY) terms and rounded to nearest decimal place.

SDL resource unit shared reduction targets

The shared reduction amount for an SDL resource unit is determined as described in s6.05 of the Basin Plan. Basin states were able to request a redistribution of shared reduction amounts before 1 July 2018. Valid shared reduction requests were received from Queensland and South Australia before 1 July 2018. Further re-allocation adjustment requests were made by 31 December 2018. Valid re-allocation of shared reduction amount requests were received from New South Wales and Victoria before 31 December 2018. Shared reduction requests were formally agreed to by the MDBA following agreement with the Department on 12 March 2019.

Further Information

Basin state long term diversion limit factor information can be found at:

Further details on water recovery topics can be found:

Groundwater recovery

The Commonwealth is undertaking water recoveries that aim to protect the long-term productive base of the Queensland Upper Condamine Alluvium aquifer, consistent with the groundwater sustainable diversion limits set by the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

Shared zone (all units GL/y) Local target SDL reduction Shared target SDL reduction Total recovery progress Total recovery remaining
Upper Condamine Alluvium 35.40 N/A 35.15 0.2
Tributaries 3.05 N/A 0.10 2.95

All water recovery figures are expressed in gigalitres per year long term average yield (GL/y LTAAY) terms, shorthand GL/y, and rounded to the nearest decimal place. Groundwater recovery does not contribute to the surface water recovery target.

Further information

Further details on environmental water recovery can be found below:

Last reviewed: 12 February 2021
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