The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is one of the most crucial pieces of environmental management policies, the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has told a gathering of global river experts.
In a speech delivered at the International River Symposium, the MDBA’s Executive Director of Partnerships Carl Binning said that the plan provided a global example of how cooperation in managing rivers across multiple jurisdictions could be achieved while balancing multiple interests.
"One of the unique aspects of water management in the Murray–Darling Basin is the capacity to use markets to manage climate variability including drought," Mr Binning said.
"Water is allocated to individual users and the environment based on shares of the amount of water available each year. Water trade then allows water to be used where it is most needed.
"The water market is particularly critical in managing dry years, as we are currently experiencing."
He said the Basin Plan prioritised water for critical human needs over all other water users, and water needed to sustain the environment was now managed in a separate pool outside the pool of water available to irrigators.
"When there is less water available, irrigators and the environment both receive less water and have to make difficult choices about how to use it, save it or sell it," Mr Binning said.
"Irrigators have also improved their water efficiency, in part through Basin Plan funding, which is one tool to help them manage better during difficult dry times.
"The water market, which puts a price on water, is an important tool and can be used by irrigators to manage their business risks by carrying over allocations or by buying or selling water on the temporary market.