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Water management

The management of water in Australia is a complex process, which differs in each state and territory. There are five levels of water management in Australia:

  1. national
  2. cross-border
  3. state/territory
  4. regional
  5. local

Water management includes the following functions:

  • water pricing and economic regulation
  • water planning and management
  • water markets
  • water supply and services
  • water quality management

Detailed information about water governance and management is available on the National Water Commission web site .

National and cross-border management

The National/cross-border arrangements table on the National rules page outlines many of the key pieces of legislation in effect which govern national and cross-border water management in Australia.

The table below contains some additional cross-border river basin water management arrangements.

Cross-border river basin water management arrangements
Cross-border arrangement Type of arrangement Summary
Murray-Darling Basin Agreement  Intergovernmental agreement (embodied in legislation) Governs water sharing and institutional arrangements for the Murray-Darling Basin.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan  Plan (not yet in force)

The Basin Plan is a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The central legal requirement of the Basin Plan is to set environmentally sustainable limits on the amount of water that can be taken in future from the basin’s water resources. Such a limit is known as a 'sustainable diversion limit'.

Lake Eyre Basin Agreement  Intergovernmental Agreement A joint undertaking of the Australian, Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory governments to ensure sustainability of the Lake Eyre Basin river systems.*
Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed  Legislation The Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed establishes a legally binding agreement between the New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian governments on the outcomes of the Snowy Water Inquiry and their implementation.
Great Artesian Basin  Strategic Management Plan (2000-2015) Plan Strategic Management Plan 2000-2015 endorsed by all jurisdictions in the Great Artesian Basin (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Northern Territory)**
Victoria-South Australia Groundwater (Border Agreement) 1985  Legislation Designed to protect the groundwater resources on the Victoria–South Australia border.**
New South Wales – Queensland border rivers  Intergovernmental Agreement Interim intergovernmental agreement between New South Wales and Queensland’s river catchments. Reflects Council of Australian Governments water reforms, Murray-Darling Basin Authority and national water arrangements.

* Water trading not available in this area
** Limited water trading available in this area

State/territory management

Water management in the states and territories is the responsibility of various government agencies, water authorities and water utilities. Information about water management in each of the states and territories is available by clicking on the tabs above.

Regional and local management

Responsibility for regional and local water management lies with various organisations, including Catchment Management Authorities, rural water utilities and local water utilities. Rural water utilities in particular play a major role in the management of water in Australia. These organisations undertake a range of regulatory, administrative and governance functions. Their primary purpose is the delivery of water for irrigation. See the Useful links page for links to rural water utilities in your area.