The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia’s largest river system covering about 20% of the continent. The Murray-Darling Basin extends approximately 1450 kilometres from north to south and 750 kilometres from east to west covering a total area of 1,086,853 km2.
In addition to the River Murray and the Darling River, the Murray-Darling Basin consists of a number of smaller but important rivers including the Murrumbidgee River, Lachlan River, Goulburn River, Campaspe River and the Namoi River.
Since the arrival of Europeans, flow volumes and regimes in the Murray-Darling Basin have become a highly altered, resulting in a number of problems such as overuse of water resources and salinity.
The Murray-Darling Basin provides 41% of Australia’s gross value of agricultural production. Crops include dryland crops such as cattle, sheep and wheat as well as irrigated agriculture such as rice, cotton dairy and horticulture. Total agricultural value exceeds $10 billion of which $3 billion is derived from irrigation. Water use is high in the basin with 9,979,000 ML of water used in 2004-05 primarily for irrigated agriculture.
The Murray-Darling Basin interjurisdictional area is managed by four states Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. In addition, the basin is also administered by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.
The major control on the development of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin is known as the Cap. The Cap was imposed in 1995 following a review of water use and water equity in the basin. For New South Wales and Victoria, the cap is defined as “The volume of water that would have been diverted under 1993/94 levels of development.” In South Australia, the Cap is set at “…the level that enables the development of its existing high security entitlements … and is equal to the long term average of 90% of the amount of very high security licences that existed in 1993/94.” For Queensland, a moratorium on further development was set from September 2000, while the ACT is yet to enter the Cap.
The Living Murray Initiative was established in 2002 by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. The program will invest $500 million from 2004-05 to improve the health of the River Murray by returning 500 GL/yr of water to the system. In particular, the program is focussed on improving the environmental outcomes of six icon sites:
- Barmah Millewa Forest
- Gunbower Koondrook-Perricoota Forest
- Hattah Lakes
- Chowilla Floodplain
- Lower Lakes, Cooring and Murray Mouth
- River Murray Channel
Figure 1 Murray-Darling Basin interjurisdictional area locality map
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Murray-Darling Basin interjurisdictional area locality map (2.2 Meg)
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