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The challenge

Water security

The Murray-Darling Basin is the largest river system in Australia. It generates 40 per cent ($15 billion) of the gross value of agricultural production in our nation and supplies water to over 2.4 million Australians, including more than 40 different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.

Communities and industries in the Basin are critically dependent on a safe and reliable water supply and its rivers and streams support a unique set of ecological assets of significant environmental, social, cultural and economic value.

In recent decades, demands on the Basin’s highly variable flows have increased significantly, resulting in a loss of water security for communities, industries and the environment. Climate change has added additional pressure on the Basin's water.

CSIRO’s research is playing a crucial role in supporting decision making in Australia’s largest river basin. ©  Greg Rinder

Our response

Decades of research

We have delivered decades of world-leading research in the Murray-Darling Basin. Primarily, we have focused on four important research areas:

  • Assessing water availability in the Basin
  • Adapting to less water
  • Sustaining the environment
  • Ensuring resilient, diverse and healthy communities.

Working with government, collaborators and communities for a healthy basin

CSIRO is providing climate, hydrological and ecological science to help inform the 2026 review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. 

We conduct:

This work follows CSIRO’s delivery of the original Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Yields Project in 2007-8 which was the most comprehensive and complex whole-of-basin water assessment ever undertaken in Australia.

The primary aim of the hydroclimate projections for Sustainable Yields 2 is to provide improved projections of the impacts of climate change on runoff. River system models will then be used for assessing the hydrological impacts of climate change on river management and future water availability across the whole Basin. Evaluation of changes in groundwater recharge are part of this assessment.

Growth of aquatic vegetation in response to flooding in a Murray-Darling Basin wetland. Image by Tanya Doody.

Flow-MER is the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder’s on-ground Monitoring, Evaluation and Research program. Over $55.6 million dollars has been committed to Flow-MER up to 2023. We work in partnership with scientists, water managers and communities across the Murray-Darling Basin to help understand how fish, birds, vegetation, river connectivity and cultural indicators are responding to Commonwealth environmental water at a Basin-scale. 

The Murray–Darling Water and Environment Research Program (MD-WERP) is a 4-year (2021-2025), $20 million Australian Government initiative. It aims to strengthen scientific knowledge of the Murray–Darling Basin through generating new research, innovation and tools in the areas of climate adaptation and hydrology, as well as environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes.

You can view more of our Murray-Darling Basin research at Murray-Darling Basin - CSIRO

The results

A scientific basis for management policy

The impact

We continue to provide science to support the best possible outcomes for communities, industries, and the Basin as a whole and to protect, improve and restore this important water resource now and into the future.

Our research has provided governments, industry and communities with trusted information to guide future resource planning, management and investment in the Basin.

The approaches developed by CSIRO have been implemented in other major river basins in Australia and are now being applied internationally.

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