The northern Murray-Darling Basin has unique conditions that present very different water management challenges than in the southern Basin.
Following the Northern Basin Review, a range of Australian Government supported initiatives have been put in place to achieve healthy working river systems in the northern Basin. These measures have a focus on complementing Basin Plan implementation by addressing the specific northern Basin water management challenges.
Northern Basin Toolkit measures
The Northern Basin Toolkit measures include 6 measures that are designed to complement environmental outcomes in the northern Basin. They support an additional 70 GL of water being kept in productive use in the northern Basin by achieving equivalent environmental outcomes using less water.
To maintain healthy working rivers a strong compliance culture is required. This is important to ensure a level playing field for all water users to help protect environmental flows. The following measures have been put in place to support compliance in the Northern Basin.
Inspector General of Water Compliance
The Office of the Inspector General of Water Compliance has been established to provide an independent regulator to strengthen Basin Plan compliance and enforcement.
Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s Review of compliance and enforcement
The Australian Government strengthened compliance with Basin water laws by implementing key recommendations of the MDBA’s Murray–Darling Basin water compliance review. This resulted in the Basin Compliance Compact in 2018 that ensures Australian and state governments take a consistent and transparent approach to compliance and enforcement.
The Hydrometric Networks and Remote Sensing Program has been set up to provide better access to accurate information for stronger assessment of water use and compliance.
There are 4 projects under the program including:
- Building a water information portal and supporting systems
- Boosting cross border measurement and monitoring
- Developing an online water accounting and reporting tool
- Operationalising remote-sensing and spatial tools
Progress on these projects can be found on the MDBA’s Enhancing water monitoring and information webpage.
Additional compliance initiatives
- Northern Murray-Darling Basin Metering Program.
- Enhancing real time monitoring (satellite and live-stream river flows to the internet) at key sites in the northern Basin.
Improving outcomes for Indigenous people
The river systems of the northern Basin are culturally, spiritually and economically significant to First Nations people and are vitally important to the wellbeing of Indigenous communities. The Australian Government supports measures to improve outcomes for indigenous people.
Funding for Indigenous communities to invest in water
$40 million has been provided to the National Indigenous Australia Agency to help Indigenous communities invest in water for cultural and economic activities.
Funding to strengthen Indigenous partnerships
The Australian Government has funded Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations to employ 2 full-time project officers for 3 years to progress implementation of the Cultural Flows Research Project.
Working to identify water entitlements
The Australian Government is working with the New South Wales and Queensland governments to identify water entitlements in the northern Basin that could be allocated to Indigenous communities.
These entitlements may be made available to support cultural and economic concerns that Indigenous communities identify as important. For example, Queensland’s Warrego–Paroo–Nebine water resource plan sets aside 900ML of unallocated surface water and 10,000ML of unallocated groundwater for community or Indigenous purposes.
Additional support for Indigenous values, priorities and interests
Additional initiatives include:
- the stimulating South Queensland Sheep Production – Building Strategic Alliance in Southwest Lamb Supply Chains (Paroo Sheep Meat Value Chain Hub) project
- the Cunnamulla Hot Springs & Riverwalk Project
- legislative change to enable the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation to buy water entitlements as well as land passed the Australian Parliament in 2018
- prioritising Indigenous and local suppliers to deliver environmental works in the northern Basin that have been agreed to as part of toolkit measures
- supporting projects associated with cultural gatherings and low-impact water recreation, including options to refurbish weirs at Wilcannia (NSW) and Cunnamulla (Qld)
- annual reporting by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority started in 2018 on how Indigenous values and water uses are considered in environmental water use and how Indigenous people are involved in decision‑making
- formal inclusion by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder has occurred since 2020-21 to include First Nations values and objectives for the environment.
Initiatives for environmental protection in the Northern Basin:
- New fish hatcheries in St George, Queensland, and Menindee, New South Wales, to kick start fish recovery.
- Further investment in the Toorale Water Infrastructure Project to better connect the Warrego and Darling Rivers.
- Fencing northern Basin riverbanks to improve water quality and outcomes for native fish. Applications can be made by eligible landholders through NSW Local Land Services or Southern Queensland Landscapes.
- Protecting environmental flows – The Australian Government has worked with the New South Wales and Queensland governments to establish mechanisms to protect environmental flows.
- Expanding research on the Murray-Darling Basin for better water and environmental management and to address knowledge gaps.