The Murray-Darling Basin
Australia's biggest river system, the basin crosses four states - Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia - and one territory - the ACT. It spans 77,000 million kilometres of rivers, many of which are connected. The basin is home to 2.2 million people and more than 3 million people in and around it rely on its water. The basin supports 9200 irrigated agriculture businesses - 40 per cent of all Australian farms - and produces $24 billion worth of food and fibre every year.
The Water Act 2007
Passed by federal parliament in 2007, the Act recognised too much water was being extracted from the Murray-Darling Basin. Invoking international treaty obligations, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Act called for the creation of the Basin Plan.
The Basin Plan 2012
Statutory instrument used to determine how much consumptive water for irrigation, mining and agriculture can be extracted from the Murray-Darling system and how much should be left to stop environmental degradation.
Murray-Darling Basin Authority
Commonwealth authority responsible for drafting and implementing the Basin Plan in partnership with NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.
Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take
The volume of water, defined in the Water Act, which needs to be taken from consumptive uses and returned to the environment.
Sustainable Diversion Limit
The maximum volume of water that can be lawfully taken from the Murray-Darling Basin's water resources for irrigated agriculture and mining.
The Darling River
The third longest river in Australia. Its headwaters are in northern NSW but it is fed by a complex network of tributaries from Queensland as well. It joins the Murray River at Wentworth on the NSW-Victorian border. In times of extreme drought, it stops flowing. Since the 1940s, it has seen three cease-to-flow events, all in the past 15 years, including the latest from 2017, when it ceased to flow for 27 months.
The fish kills
Three mass fish kills occurred between December 2018 and January 2019, drawing international attention to the disastrous state of the Lower Darling near Menindee.
South Australian Royal Commission
Established in 2018 after allegations of large-scale water theft by cotton farmers in the northern basin and headed by Commissioner Bret Walker SC, the Royal Commission recommended a complete overhaul of how water is managed in the Murray-Darling Basin. It also criticised how Commonwealth officials drew up the Basin Plan.
NSW ICAC investigation
In November 2020, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption made 15 recommendations to the NSW Government to improve the management of water resources "after the undermining of the governing legislation's priorities over the past decade by the responsible department's repeated tendency to adopt an approach that was unduly focused on the interests of the irrigation industry".
Where we're at now
With the Menindee Lakes full for the first time since 2012 and water flowing down the Darling River, a NSW Upper House Inquiry is examining proposed regulation and licensing of floodplain harvesting. The Basin Plan will be reviewed in 2024, with a focus on the likely effects of climate change. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made grim predictions of more frequent periods of drought and intense flooding events.