Widespread degradation of the Basin’s natural resources was apparent in the 1980s and at the time, institutional arrangements for programmes of management lay with the 5 State governments in the Basin, with no co-ordination of remediation programme development. Joint action was required by governments in partnership with the Basin’s rural and urban communities.
In response to this problem, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission was established in January 1988 under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, with a charter to:
- Efficiently manage and equitably distribute River Murray water resources
- Protect and improve the water quality of the River Murray and its tributaries and
- Advise the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council on water, land and environmental management in the Basin.
The Commission provides a comprehensive planning framework for natural resources management for the Murray-Darling Basin. Over the decade from 1990-2000 it included:
- The Natural Resources Management Strategy
- The Basin Sustainability Plan
- Strategic Plans
- Project plans for the development of policies and strategies and
- Plans for generating and sharing knowledge, including the Human Dimension Programme.
The MDBC has established cross-border arrangements between the States to share water resources through a water trading scheme and increase water use efficiency. The sustainability of the MDBC and its programmes is still dependent on government funding, and will continue to be so, but since its inception, Federal Government support has not waned.
- The participatory approach used with its Community Advisory Committee has helped the Commission be successful in winning and maintaining community interest, involvement and support
- Resource condition outcomes are more likely to be achieved where formal targets are set and accountability for achieving them clearly established and agreed by governments
- The strategies for action, programmes and frameworks have benefited from intergovernmental (top-down) approaches coupled with bottom-up actions, although determining how an equitable cost-sharing arrangement can be set up, implemented and maintained has been a challenge.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case describes a very large-scale interstate IWRM organisation for transboundary water resources management using negotiation and legislative tools. It is a strong example of salinity management, water caps (reduction of further extractions), water quality management strategies (including point source and diffuse source pollutants) in a sub-humid environment.
Lessons learned here are transferable to other river basin organisations in the GWP Associated Programmes, e.g. INBO’s work on transboundary IWRM.
Photo credit: Hector Garcia