in Kings Billabong Wildlife Reserve, Mildura on the River Murray.
Australian Pelican in Kings Billabong Wildlife Reserve, Mildura on the River Murray. © Andrew Peacock/Tandem Stills & Motion

Food & Water Stories

Creating a sustainable Murray-Darling

We’re balancing agriculture, finance and the environment.

The Murray-Darling Basin is one of the world’s largest and most productive river basins, supporting a $24 billion agricultural industry and providing one third of Australia’s food supply. It harbours some of our most important natural assets by supporting a diverse range of animals, plants and ecosystems of national and international significance. This includes 35 endangered birds and 16 endangered mammals.

Murray Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund

However, the Murray-Darling is also one of the most vulnerable river basins on Earth. Decades of engineering, over-allocation and the drying effect of climate change have significantly reduced runoff to rivers, creeks and wetlands within the basin. In a 2012 assessment of overall ecosystem health, more than 80% of the Murray-Darling Basin’s river valleys were rated as being in poor or very poor health based on assessments of fish, invertebrates and vegetation. The Basin’s ecosystems are suffering and as a result, many species that depend on the region’s natural flooding cycle face extinction.

Species infographic
Murray-Darling Basin Species infographic © TNC

To address these environmental concerns, in 2015 we established the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund to provide water security for farmers, while protecting culturally significant wetlands that support threatened species and ecosystems. The Fund invests in permanent water rights in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin and allocates those rights in a smart way. When water is abundant and agricultural demand is lower, more water is made available to local wetlands. When water is scarce and agricultural demand is higher, more water is made available to irrigation. This approach optimises agricultural and environmental outcomes by replicating the natural wetting and drying cycles of the Basin. It’s a win-win approach, aligning the interests of people and nature.

The Fund is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group and Kilter Rural, with support from the National Australia Bank

The Fund provides the following conservation outcomes:

  • Improved waterbird and native fish habitats including breeding habitats
  • Improved health for wetlands, floodplain forests and woodlands
  • Sustainability of plant and fish refuges
  • Increased wetland plant health and growth

In addition to environmental outcomes, the restoration of environmental flows helps conserve sites of important Aboriginal cultural and spiritual value.

Creating a better way to share water

Farming and looking after nature go hand in hand for Wagyu beef cattle farmer Jamie McMaster. When Jamie first moved to Yambuna, near Echuca in northern Victoria, he said the 11 hectares of wetlands that border his farm had not seen water in years.

“We bought the property in 2015 and it was dry for at least six or seven years prior to that”. Forty megalitres of water pumped into nationally-significant Yambuna Lagoon in September 2017, thanks to the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund, provided a timely top up to the natural flooding that occurred 12 months prior.

"We were delighted with the huge improvements that came with the lagoon. We saw a real increase in biodiversity in the area. We got lots more birds and even had freshwater turtles nesting within days of the lagoon's banks coming under water."

Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund

  • The Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund has acquired 8.8 gigalitres of water. 
  • We have supported the return of 3,315 megalitres of water to wetlands in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, covering 178 hectares (to 30/6/2019).
  • Across all of the watering events to date there has been an average increase in bird diversity of 212% and an average increase in bird abundance of 282%.
  • Two nationally threatened species have been recorded in response to watering events, the Southern Bell Frog and Eastern Regent Parrot.
  • Watering has supported the return of the locally extinct Murray Hardyhead Craterocephalus fluviatilis, a freshwater fish species, to Murray River waters in New South Wales.

By 2020 with your support we aim to:

  • Demonstrate a market-based approach to managing water scarcity by acquiring 30 gigalitres of permanent water entitlements.
  • Provide 6,000 megalitres of water to wetlands each year, sufficient to restore ecological health to approximately 3,000 hectares of wetlands.
  • Enhance natural values such as bird breeding events and fish spawning, wetland plant growth and diversity and wildlife movement.