Key features of the Water Act 2007

Murray-Darling Basin Authority

The Water Act 2007 establishes an independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) with the functions and powers, including enforcement powers, needed to ensure that Basin water resources are managed in an integrated and sustainable way. The MDBA will oversee water planning considering the Basin as a whole, rather than state by state, for the first time.

In December 2008 the Water Amendment Act amended the Water Act 2007. This resulted in the functions of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission being transferred to the Authority, creating a single body responsible for overseeing water resource planning in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Key functions of the MDBA include:

  • preparing a Basin Plan for adoption by the Minister, including setting sustainable limits on water that can be taken from surface and groundwater systems across the Basin
  • advising the Minister on the accreditation of state water resource plans
  • developing a water rights information service which facilitates water trading across the Murray-Darling Basin
  • measuring and monitoring water resources in the Basin
  • gathering information and undertaking research
  • engaging the community in the management of the Basin's resources

The MDBA provides independent advice to the Commonwealth Minister for Climate Change and Water.

The Basin Plan

Map of the Murray-Darling Basin

Map of the Murray-Darling Basin
Murray-Darling Basin map - PDF (748 KB)

The Act requires the MDBA to prepare a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin. This plan is referred to as the Basin Plan.

The Act establishes mandatory content for the Basin Plan, including:

  • limits on the amount of water (both surface and ground water) that can be taken from Basin water resources on a sustainable basis - known as long-term average sustainable diversion limits. These limits will be set for Basin water resources as a whole and for individual water resources.
  • identification of risks to Basin water resources, such as climate change, and strategies to manage those risks.
  • requirements that a state water resource plan will need to comply with if it is to be accredited under this Act
  • an environmental watering plan to optimise environmental outcomes for the Basin by specifying environmental objectives, watering priorities and targets for Basin water resources
  • a water quality and salinity management plan which may include targets
  • rules about trading of water rights in relation to Basin water resources

The Basin Plan will be complemented through water resource plans prepared by Basin States and provided to the Australian Government Minister for accreditation. The MDBA will provide advice to the Minister on whether to accredit such plans. Water resource plans will only be accredited if they are consistent with the Basin Plan, including the long-term average sustainable diversion limits.

The Basin Plan will also play an important role in identifying responsibilities for managing risks associated with reductions in water availability and changes in reliability. Where the Basin Plan specifies a reduction in the long-term average sustainable diversion limit, the Basin Plan will also identify the percentage of that reduction for which the Australian Government is responsible. This percentage relates to the risk sharing arrangements set out in the Act, which are modelled on those agreed by the Commonwealth and state and territory governments through the National Water Initiative in June 2004.

The Australian Government has made a commitment to respect water sharing arrangements that are provided for in existing water resource plans. This commitment is implemented through the transitional arrangements set out in the Act.

The Basin Plan will be prepared in consultation with Basin States and communities.

The Basin Plan is expected to be in place in 2011.

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder

The Act establishes a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder . The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder will manage the Commonwealth's environmental water to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin, and outside the Basin where the Commonwealth owns water.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

The Act provides the ACCC with a key role in developing and enforcing water charge and water market rules along the lines agreed in the National Water Initiative. The aim of these new functions is to ensure that water markets are able to operate freely across state boundaries and that perverse outcomes from inconsistent water charging arrangements are avoided.

Specifically, the ACCC will provide advice to the Commonwealth on water charge and market rules to apply within the Murray-Darling Basin and will be responsible for enforcing these rules. The rules will ensure that charges are set efficiently and that participants in the water market act competitively. The ACCC will determine bulk water charges.

The ACCC will undertake consultation in preparing its advice. Regulations are currently being prepared that outline the consultation that must be undertaken with the states, stakeholders and the public, in the making of water market and water charge rules.

Bureau of Meteorology

The Act gives the Bureau of Meteorology water information functions that are in addition to its existing functions under the Meteorology Act 1955.

The Bureau will now be authorised to collect and publish high-quality water information. The publications will include a National Water Account and periodic reports on water resource use and availability.

The Bureau will also be empowered to set and implement national standards for water information. A major outcome of the Bureau's work will be increased transparency, confidence and understanding of water information.