MURRAY DARLING BASIN INTRODUCTION TO ISSUES. MURRAY DARLING BASIN. The Murray Darling Basin is the area of land that makes up the catchment of the River Murray, the Darling River, and all the small rivers and creeks that flow into them.
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INTRODUCTION TO ISSUES
The Murray Darling Basin is the area of land that makes up the catchment of the River Murray, the Darling River, and all the small rivers and creeks that flow into them.
The Basin is Australia’s most important agricultural region, producing one third of Australia’s food supply, and is home to about two million people.
The Basin provides drinking water for over three million people, and more than one third of these people live outside the area.
The Basin is so important for Australia that if the region is allowed to continue to deteriorate it will affect every Australian, whether they live in the country or the city.
Water is the lifeblood of all living things
and its also the lifeblood of the Basin.
People who live and work in the Basin
rely on its water to drink, to wash with,
and to use in their factories. Plants and
animals in the Basin also rely on the
water as part of a healthy
ecosystem in which they live, feed and
breed. Over the years the quality of the
Basin’s water has been degraded. As a
result, it’s rivers may not be able to
continue supplying the water that the
people, plants and animals need to
The water in the Basin’s rivers
are becoming spoiled, wetlands are drying
up, native fish are struggling to survive and
many areas of land are becoming too salty for
plants to grow.
Some of the major challenges facing the
With salinity levels rising in the rivers, as well
as on land, salt is one of the biggest challenges
for the Basin. Salts that naturally occur deep
in the soil are being dissolved by rising
groundwater and then carried into the rivers, or
brought to the soil surface. Most native plants
and crops cannot grow if the soil gets too salty.
If salt levels in the rivers become too high,
plants and fish that live in the water can die.
Salt can also kill crops if farmers irrigate using
salty water from the rivers. The problem is that
huge amounts of native vegetation have been
removed from the Basin over the past hundred
years or so, without being replaced. Shallow-
rooted plants, such as many food crops, do not
use as much rainwater as trees and native
vegetation. The extra rainwater then soaks into the
ground, causing the watertable to rise. When
more trees are planted they use the excess water,
the watertable falls and the land may be able to
Around 30,000 wetlands can be found in
the Basin, some of which are Important
breeding grounds for birds from as far away
as Japan and China! Thirty-five different
native fish species live in the Basin’s rivers.
The Basin has at least 35 endangered
species of birds and 16 species of
endangered mammals. Unfortunately, 20
species of mammals have already become
When nutrients from fertilisers and drainage flow into the river, it encourages the
naturally-occurring algae to grow faster than usual. Combined with the effects of slow-
moving water from reduced river flows, algal blooms form. This can be a big
problem because some types of blue-green algae are poisonous to humans, animals and
fish. The challenge for Basin managers is to try to stop these blooms from occurring.
At the moment, there is not enough water
in the Basin to supply everyone’s needs
and wants. The major Water Sharing
Challenge is to come up with a fair
system in which everyone working and
living in the Basin has most of the water
they need, while at the same time,
ensuring that the ecosystem has enough
fresh clean water to thrive. The health of
the river and its tributaries will not be
sustained if the community keeps taking
Large amounts of water out of the river
system to irrigate crops. There is now a
limit placed on how much water can be
removed from the rivers, and members of
the community are learning to balance
their water needs with those of a healthy
and productive environment.
Who are the people of the Murray-Darling Basin?
Everyone lives in a catchment area, and a
Healthy catchment is an essential part of a
healthy river. Managing the challenges in
the Basin is not just about managing
rivers. It is also about managing the lands
that make up the catchments of those
rivers to ensure that the system is in
balance. No matter where you live in
Australia, the rain that falls on you will
eventually drain into a river, after
plants have used the water they need and
The ground has soaked up as much as it
can. Problems such as salinity and erosion
on the land will cause salt and soil to be
washed down through the catchment and
into the rivers, degrading river health.
So, another very important challenge for
The people of the Basin is to work towards
healthy ecosystems on the land, as well
as in and near the rivers.
When the natural flows of the river were
changed, plants, fish and animals that had
been happily living there began to suffer.
Thirty-five native fish species live within the
Murray-Darling Basin river system, but
native fish populations are only 10% of what
hey were before European settlement in
Australia. Changes in the flow of the river,
construction of dams and weirs, a decline in
water quality, disappearing habitats,
overfishing, and the introduction of exotic
fish such as carp, as well as of various
made it extremely difficult for many of the
Native species to survive however, there is
a major project under way to send more
water flowing through the Basin’s rivers
so that the environment benefits. This
should help birds and fish to breed again
and may give native vegetation the
opportunity to regenerate.
Fifty years ago, people were only
concerned about how to store water
from the Basin’s rivers, and how to
control their flow. The technologies
they developed have made possible
Australia’s multibillion dollar irrigation
industry, which produces one third of
ability to use its natural resources in a sustainable way.
To achieve sustainability, some people may need
to learn more about the needs of a healthy working
river, and then change the way they use the
resources of the Basin. This will ensure that people are
able to earn a living from using the resources of the
Basin, while at the same time protecting the habitat of
the native birds, animals and fish that also live in the
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission is coordinating
community groups. The people who live in the Basin
have different needs and values. They will need to
value what the Basin brings into their lives so that
sustainability into the future becomes a shared goal for
Governments and communities throughout the Basin are working together, with the common goal of maintaining this precious environment while, at the same time continuing to grow and develop Basin communities. The sustainable use of the Basin is being managed by the Commonwealth Government, five state and territory governments, and more than 200 local governments. They are working together with people from cities and rural communities, farmers, Indigenous people, Landcare groups and many other community organisations who care about the Basin.
To implement this targets-based approach to catchment health, the capacity of government agencies, catchment management organisations, local government, and the broader community will be strengthened, particularly at catchment scale. Capacity includes legal, institutional, planning, management, financial, technical and information skills and capacities, and leadership skills