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Progress on water recovery

When establishing the Basin Plan it was determined that a portion of surface water and groundwater entitlements should be recovered and retained in the system, to improve the health of rivers, wetlands and groundwater systems. This is known as the water recovery target, and is a long-term average.

The recovery volume is based on scientific method and judgement. It has been determined based on an analysis of historical data, environmental science, and social and economic analysis, as well as the modelling of different future scenarios.

Basin Plan amendments

In January 2018, amendments were made to the Basin Plan, as part of the adjustment to sustainable diversion limits (SDL). In July 2018, a second set of amendments were made to the Basin Plan, following the Northern Basin Review. The amendments following the Northern Basin Review reduced the water recovery target from 390 gigalitres per year (GL/y) to 320 GL/y in the northern Basin and provided additional time for Basin states to request a re-allocation of the shared reduction amount within a Basin zone in their state.

Summary of surface water recovery progress

Contracted surface water recovery

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) estimates that the contracted (including registered) surface water recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin, as at 31 March 2023, is 2,107.4 GL/y.

  • In addition, 12.0 GL/y of efficiency measure entitlements have been registered with Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).
  • Following the amendments to the Basin Plan, the overall target for water recovery is 2,075 GL/y plus 450 GL/y of efficiency measures by 2024.
  • Local water recovery required is 31.1 GL/y, mostly in the northern Basin.
  • Shared water recovery required is 14.9 GL/y, all in the southern Basin. Following Basin state requests, the Authority agreed in March 2019 to a re-allocation of the shared recovery targets within Basin zones.
  • Efficiency entitlements of 50.0 GL/y are still required to be registered to allow the full effect of the 605 GL/y supply contribution to SDL.
  • Further, until all water resource plans are accredited the complex task of water accounting for water recovery will not be complete and any level of recovery in an SDL resource unit is uncertain.

While the total amount of water recovered across the Basin is higher than the overall target of 2,075 GL/y, there remain some SDL resource units with local and shared water recovery targets that have not yet been met. This is why there remains some water recovery requirements in the figures above despite the fact that total recoveries Basin-wide exceed 2,075 GL/y.

For more information about water recovery projects, visit the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water website.

The above totals include both registered entitlements and entitlements secured under contracts that have not yet been transferred from the current owner to the relevant environmental water holder. A summary of the volumes that have been 'Registered' (i.e. ownership transferred to the relevant environmental water holder and available for use) are provided separately below.

Summary of groundwater recovery progress

The MDBA estimates that the contracted groundwater recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin, as at 31 March 2023, is 35.2 GL/y. Recovery is required in the Upper Condamine Alluvium with a target of 38.45 GL/y. At 31 March 2023 a further 3.2 GL/y is required.

Accounting for water recovery

Accounting for water recovery is a complex process and requires understanding a diverse range of information.

The current recovery amount is an estimate of the long-term average annual use by the portfolio of water entitlements that have been recovered.

This estimate is calculated by applying a set of factors to the water entitlement volumes (these are often referred to as 'long term diversion limit equivalent' factors). These factors are based on a set of planning assumptions, which vary from state to state and consider such things as storage sizes, historical climate patterns, water resource plan rules, assumptions about irrigator crop selection and expected usage patterns. These planning assumptions are being updated, as part of developing water resource plans. The New South WalesVictorianSouth Australian and Queensland Governments have updated their factors. These updated factors have been used to determine the 31 March 2023 water recovery estimates.

As Basin states prepare and have accredited their water resource plans, factors will be updated for SDL resource units in the Basin. Water resource plans were due for accreditation by 30 June 2019 and after being provided extensions, all Basin states except New South Wales had accredited WRPs in place at 30 June 2020. New South Wales submitted all 20 of its water resource plans by June 2020. These plans have subsequently been withdrawn by New South Wales as they were assessed as inconsistent with the Basin Plan. New South Wales has worked with the MDBA to address the assessment findings and have re-submitted water resource plans for assessment. When New South Wales water resource plans are accredited the New South Wales factors will be finalised. This may affect the final volume of entitlements needed to complete water recovery. In some valleys this may mean a small amount of extra water recovery may be required.

The updated factors will be used to determine if the water recovery required in each valley has been achieved, as required under the Basin Plan to meet the SDL.


The New South Wales Government and the Australian Government requested the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) undertake a review of Nimmie-Caira’s estimated contribution to the water recovery target.

The review focused on the 40.4 GL/y that was not originally included in the recovery contribution. The MDBA’s review has found that this should contribute to the bridging the gap target.

Read the Review of the contribution of the Nimmie-Caira purchase to Basin Plan water recovery.

Basin scale

The sum of all local targets and shared targets less the apportioned supply contribution is the total surface water recovery target for the Basin.

Recovery targets, at the Basin scale, are as follows:

Total sum of local targets Total sum of shared targets Apportioned supply contribution Total Basin target (local plus shared less apportioned supply contribution)

1,668 GL/y

1,012 GL/y

605 GL/y

2,075 GL/y

In addition to the water recovery target above, the Australian Government is seeking to deliver 450 GL/y of efficiency measure entitlements, with neutral or positive social and economic impacts.

Contracted recovery estimates* at the Basin scale are as follows:

Commonwealth recovery purchased by tender program Commonwealth recovery from infrastructure projects Other Commonwealth recovery Total recovery by state projects Total estimated contracted water recovery

1,231.2 GL/y1

692.8 GL/y

15.4 GL/y

168.0 GL/y

2,107.4 GL/y

1 includes 2.8 GL/y that is exempt from the 1,500 GL limit on water purchases.

The total remaining water recovery* is as follows:

Recovery remaining to meet all local targets Recovery remaining to meet all shared targets Total water recovery still required

31.1 GL/y

14.9 GL/y

46.0 GL/y

*as at 31 March 2023 with updated New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Queensland factors.

The details of the water recovery effort with updated New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Queensland factors are presented in a summary table.

If you need an alternative format of the summary table, email the MDBA.

The summary table sets out all of the water recovery targets across the Basin, current progress toward meeting the targets, and the balance of recovery required. The information is presented at the SDL resource unit scale, Basin zone scale, and at total Basin scale.

There are 3 key aspects to water recovery targets in the Basin Plan. These are:

  • local targets, known in the Basin Plan as a 'local reduction amount', which apply at the SDL resource unit level
  • shared targets, known in the Basin Plan as a 'shared reduction amount', which apply at the Basin shared zone level
  • apportioned supply contribution, which reflects, in advance, recognition of multiple proposed supply projects where equivalent environmental outcomes are achieved with a lower volume of held environmental water than would otherwise be required. An outcome of the supply contribution is to increase the SDL.

The terminology used in the Basin Plan, 'reduction amount', refers to the amount of reduction in diversions for consumptive purposes required to reduce the baseline diversion limit (BDL) to the SDL.

Progress against shared targets

Shared recovery targets are the further recovery required, in addition to the local recovery targets, to satisfy the environmental needs of the Murray and Darling rivers. The shared recovery is contributed to by SDL resource units which are sufficiently connected to these large rivers.

Under the Basin Plan (s6.05) states were able to nominate their shared recovery allocation targets at the individual SDL resource unit level, as long as:

  • the total of the SDLs for each zone remains the same
  • the shared reduction amount for each SDL resource unit must be greater than or equal to 0 GL/y, and
  • the amount of water already recovered by the Commonwealth at the time of the request was taken into account.

By 30 June 2018, Queensland and South Australia had requested a re-allocation of the shared reduction amount within their state. By 31 December 2018, New South Wales and Victoria had also requested a re-allocation of the shared reduction amount within their state. All requests were consistent with the Basin Plan requirements, and following consultation with the then Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, were subsequently agreed to by the Authority.

As at 31 March 2023, the remaining shared water recovery is estimated to be 14.9 GL/y to meet the shared recovery target of 1,012.0 GL/y.

Progress against local targets

The Basin Plan sets out a local water recovery target for each SDL resource unit area. This target must be met by recovering water from within that SDL resource unit area. The local recovery amount is (in most cases) the minimum recovery required within each SDL resource unit to satisfy local environmental needs.

As at 31 March 2023, the remaining local water recovery is estimated to be 31.1 GL/y to meet the local recovery target of 1,668.0 GL/y.

Registered surface water recovery

The SDL is determined at the start of each water year based on efficiency measures registered at that point in time.

'Registered' surface water recovery refers to entitlements that have been transferred to the ownership of the relevant environmental water holder and are available for use. Registered volumes are used for SDL accounting purposes.

Registered surface water recovery is reported by Basin states on an annual basis within four months after the end of a water accounting period. Any 'contracted' surface water entitlements are listed in the surface water register maintained by the MDBA when the entitlement becomes registered (or available).

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) estimates that the registered surface water recovery in the Murray–Darling Basin, as at 30 June 2021, was 2,107.7 GL/y; this includes water recovery registered to Commonwealth and state government water holders.

The details of the registered surface water recovery effort with updated New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Queensland factors are presented in a summary table.

Sustainable diversion limit resource units

An SDL resource unit describes a geographical area which contains a set of water resources. Boundaries of surface-water SDL resource units are generally based on catchments, while boundaries of groundwater SDL resource units are based on hydrogeology and existing state planning boundaries. Maps of the SDL resource units are available at spatial information downloads.

Surface water SDL resource units are broadly grouped under the 'northern Basin', 'southern Basin' or 'disconnected tributaries'.

Pre–2009 water recovery

Since 2004, major water recovery programs have been underway to recover water for the environment in the Basin. These programs include the 'The Living Murray' and 'Water for Rivers'.

The water recovery commitments in this period of 2004–09 were taken into account when determining the BDLs and SDLs for each SDL resource unit area. The water recovery target builds upon these historical efforts to improve environmental outcomes.

The MDBA's estimates of water recovered by these programs is presented in the pre–2009 water recovery table.

If you need an alternative format of the pre-2009 water recovery table email the MDBA.

Updated: 19 May 2023