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Basin-wide compliance and enforcement

The Basin Plan aims to strike a balance between access to water for Basin communities and the provision of water for the environment. This balance will deliver a productive and healthy Murray–Darling Basin. Compliance with the Basin Plan is critical to achieving this, and ensuring that all Australians trust that water is being used in accordance with the rules.


Key facts

The MDBA enforces the Basin Plan to contribute to a productive and healthy Basin.
Compliance with the Basin Plan is critical to restoring
health to the Basin.
If you have information about water theft or misuse contact the relevant state government authority or alternatively
contact the MDBA.
The MDBA regulates the Basin state government
water agencies who have the front-line responsibility for water planning, river operations and water compliance.

The MDBA is an active and independent regulator
across the Basin.

An Inspector-General for the Murray–Darling Basin provides greater confidence that Basin Plan compliance responsibilities are being met.




The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) monitors and enforces compliance with the Basin Plan. The MDBA regulates the state water agencies who have the front-line responsibility for water planning, river operations and water compliance.

In undertaking this role, the MDBA has a range of powers and tools available to detect and manage non-compliance, including auditing and investigations (including the use of contemporary technology such as remote sensing). 

The MDBA has compliance responsibilities for seven key areas of water management:

Water Resource Plans

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with water resource plans, which begins as each plan is accredited.

Compliance with water resource plans is a crucial part of implementing the Basin Plan.

Basin state governments are responsible for complying with water resource plans and accounting for water taken from the river system. Local water management must be consistent with the rules set out in water resource plans, which are consistent with the Basin Plan.

The MDBA will take a ‘risk and outcomes’ based approach to compliance that will include water resource plan audits and assurance, reporting and enforcement. Our regulatory statement explains our compliance framework and approach.

Water resource plans will be regularly audited, prioritising areas of highest risk to ensure the outcomes of the Basin Plan are achieved. Audit outcomes will be published on the MDBA website and actions will be taken to address any non-compliance.

The focus areas for WRP compliance include:

  • Sustainable diversion limits and water accounting
  • Delivery, protection and monitoring of water for the environment
  • Licence conditions on water access rights
  • Critical human water needs in extreme circumstances (when triggered)

More information

Sustainable Diversion Limits

The Basin Plan sets sustainable diversion limits or SDLs, which is how much water can be used in the Murray–Darling Basin. This limit then ensures there is enough water remaining in the environment to keep the river system and groundwater resources healthy. The MDBA ensures compliance with the SDLs. The approach to SDL compliance is set out in the MDBA's SDL Reporting and Compliance Framework.

Compliance and enforcement of illegal take

The MDBA's provides assurance of Basin State compliance and enforcement systems. The MDBA will take action against illegal water take if a Basin State is failing to do so effectively.

Water Measurement and Metering

The MDBA will work to develop and implement methods to improve the accuracy of water measurement and increase transparency of water take across the Basin. This will include the use of remote sensing and emerging technologies to support Basin Plan compliance and water compliance monitoring activities. 

Making accurate non-urban water meters more accessible

Basin states require or are moving to ensure that new and replacement non-urban water meters comply with the Australian Standard for non-urban water meters (AS4747).

Each Basin state has its own policy for non-urban water meters, and in time, most meters will be renewed and meet the Australian Standard.

However, some practical and procedural issues have impacted the transition to the new Australian Standard.

In December 2019, the Basin governments agreed to work together to make it easier:

  • to select compliant meters
  • maintain a meter throughout its life.

The MDBA is leading this program and is working closely with all Australian governments to improve metering. We are working with industry to bring more compliant meters to the market, improve communication on maintenance requirements, and support the use of accurate meters

Planning and protection of environmental water

Under the Basin Plan, the MDBA prepares a Basin-wide environmental watering strategy and Basin states prepare long-term water resource plans. The MDBA monitors compliance with the environmental watering plans by assessing the extent to which obligations are fulfilled by state and Commonwealth agencies, including the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO), and by supporting the development and assessment of state WRP plans. 

Water markets and trade

The MDBA enforces compliance with the Basin Plan's water trading rules. Read more about the MDBA's compliance approach to water markets and trade.

Water quality and salinity

The Basin Plan sets water quality and salinity objectives and targets. Basin States, river operators, the Basin Officials Committee and environmental water holders must have regard for such targets when making water management decisions. The MDBA provides assurance that the Basin states and the CEWO consider water quality and salinity when managing flows and using environmental water. The MDBA must also monitor, assess and report on salinity levels in the River Murray.  Read more about water quality and salinity.

Interim Inspector-General for the Murray–Darling Basin

The Australian Government has appointed an Interim Inspector-General for the Murray–Darling Basin. This appointment replaces the role of the Northern Basin Commissioner and is held by the Hon. Troy Grant.

The Interim Inspector-General will:

  • hold the MDBA, Commonwealth and all states to account
  • provide independent assurance to the community around the Basin Plan’s implementation
  • ensure the laws governing water use are followed
  • check on water recovery and delivery of water efficiency projects
  • monitor compliance and suspected water theft across the basin; investigate and collect evidence where appropriate
  • provide annual reports to the Minister for Water Resources
  • conduct community engagement on Basin Plan implementation and compliance matters.

The Interim Inspector-General will also be able to refer issues to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission once it is established.

Until amendments to the Water Act 2007 (the Water Act) are made, the MDBA retains responsibility for compliance and enforcement with the Water Act, Basin Plan and water resource plans.

Find out more about the Interim Inspector-General.

Updated: 24 Dec 2020