and ongoing economic success.
- Where does it start and end? From its source high in the Australian Alps, the Murrumbidgee River winds through the alpine regions of Kosciuszko National Park and the Monaro High Plains, and then through the Australian Capital Territory. Once the river reaches the south-west slopes of New South Wales, it heads west across the riverine plains to its confluence with the River Murray near Balranald.
- Which tributaries flow into it: Cotter, Yass, and Tumut
- What is the annual stream flow? 4,000 GL per year
- How long is the Murrumbidgee River? 1485kms
- What is the population of the Murrumbidgee catchment? Approximately 550,000.
- Towns included: Cooma, Canberra, Yass, Tumut, Gundagai, Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga, Narrandera, Leeton, Griffith, Hay and Queanbeyan
- Key water uses: Irrigated agriculture, hydroelectricity, and urban water supply
- The Murrumbidgee area covers about 8% of the Murray–Darling Basin in southern NSW.
- The catchment includes the major centres Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Griffith, Leeton and Hay and has 27% of the basin’s population.
- The region’s major sources of water are the Murrumbidgee River and its tributaries, the Snowy Mountains Scheme and its storages, aquifers, wetlands and water storages.
- The region’s major water storages are Blowering Dam on the Tumut River and Burrinjuck Dam on the upper Murrumbidgee River.
- Crops grown in the region include rice, winter cereal grains, grapes, citrus, sugar plums, pasture, lucerne, corn, tomatoes soybeans and cotton.
- The word Murrumbidgee means “big water” in the Wiradjuri language.
- The Murrumbidgee produces 50% of Australia’s rice, 25% of NSW’s fruit and vegetables and 90% of NSW’s potatoes.
- 60% of NSW and 20% of Australia’s wine grapes, are produced in the Murrumbidgee, as well as 60% of NSW citrus.
- We have several large renowned family-owned wineries in the region, including McWIlliams, DeBortoli, Calabria and Casella.
- In a good year, the Murrumbidgee produces enough cotton for 193 million pairs of jeans annually.
- We are the largest producer of chicken meat in the southern hemisphere
- I in 4 glasses of Australian wine comes from the Murrumbidgee
- We’re home to the largest wine bottling plant in the southern hemisphere.
- The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is one of the most diverse and productive regions in Australia contributing over $5 billion annually to the national economy.
- 22 catchment areas of which the Murrumbidgee is one
- Home to 16 internationally significant wetlands, 35 endangered species and 98 different species of waterbirds
- Population of more than 2.2 million people, including people from 40 different First Nations.
- Attracts visitors from around the world, with tourism earning around $8 billion each year
Here in the Murrumbidgee, capturing rainfall runoff, which is capturing the relatively low rainfall through our irrigation structures and reusing it, is more relevant to our regulated part of the river system.
Historically, water captured after rain and flood events in the basin has not been licensed or measured. This has been the subject of much debate.
For irrigators in the northern basin, floodplain harvesting is an important source of water, while some downstream communities are concerned about the impact capturing these flows has on downstream users.
The historical lack of information about the amount of floodplain water available to capture meant only some was accounted for in the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.
The NSW government has been doing quite a bit of work in this space as part of the Basin Plan. It has released a Floodplain Harvesting Policy and has committed to developing a policy to assess and manage the collection of rainfall runoff and where exemptions would apply.
You can find more information on the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website: https://www.industry.nsw.gov.au/water/plans-programs/healthy-floodplains-project/about
Without the highly developed irrigation network, the area would not be as productive, there would be fewer jobs, and less vibrant communities.
Agriculture is the largest user of water in the Murrumbidgee, with irrigators using more than 2,000 gigalitres of water in an average year to grow crops and provide drinking water to livestock.
The aim of the plan is to bring the basin back to a healthier and sustainable level, while continuing to support irrigation and production, tourism, sport, community activities, and the towns and cities that rely on the water.
All of these contribute to making the river system healthier and therefore better able to support all the communities and industries that rely on it.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office manages environmental water and works with agencies, communities and industries across the basin to decide where the water is needed most each year.
The Murray–Darling Basin Plan is aimed at keeping the basin’s rivers
healthy over the longer term. To achieve this, it was determined that too much
water was being extracted across the basin and more needed to be left in the
river system. This is to allow the river system to be best placed to continue
to support basin communities and industries into the future.
One of the ways the plan has proposed to leave more in the river system is to buy back water licences from people willing to sell them. This means the water bought back would be used for environmental purposes rather than irrigation – it would be used as environmental water.
This policy has been a source of great debate over the years due to the concerns about the economic impact of some water no longer being used for irrigation, and therefore having an economic impact on some communities that are particularly reliant on their water industry.
At the inception of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the federal government committed to suspend water buybacks in favour of infrastructure projects that deliver water savings and environmental projects that deliver equal or better environmental outcomes using less water. As of December 2023, the government elected to amend the Bill, allowing buybacks to be considered an appropriate mechanism for meeting the outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
With one gigalitre equal to one billion litres of water, that means producers in the Murrumbidgee use up to more than two and a half trillion litres of water every year.
The region has continued to improve its water efficiency through local innovation and identifying program opportunities to make water savings. For example, in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area alone, irrigators have secured nearly $348 million of Australian Government investment in critical water savings projects.
This involves the government paying for upgrades to infrastructure in exchange for water savings for the river system.
Upgrades have included automating structures and gates to achieve consistent flow rates, replacing Dethridge wheels with accurate electronic flow meters, lining channels to reduce seepage, replacing inefficient channel systems with gravity pipelines and pumped systems.
The state governments are responsible for water licences, as well as determining what percentage of water licence holders will get from year to year.
The allocation amount varies as it is based on an assessment of climate conditions, rainfall and water stored in the catchment.
The amount of water available for use by an individual irrigator also varies and is subject to individual infrastructure efficiency and individual business decisions including trade.
The largest Aboriginal nation on the slopes and plains of the Murrumbidgee catchment is the Wiradjuri, whose nation extends from the River Murray to beyond Dubbo in the north, and west to Balranald. In addition to the Wiradjuri, there are several smaller nations at the western end of the catchment, including the Barapa Barapa, Muthi Muthi, Nari Nari, Nyeri Nyeri, Wadi Wadi, Wamba Wamba, Weki Weki, and Wolgalu. The mountains at the eastern end of the Murrumbidgee catchment are the country of the Ngunawal and Ngarigo nations.
Gayini (Nimmie-Caira) is an environmentally and culturally significant property on the Murrumbidgee floodplains, referred to as the ‘Kakadu of the south’. The project was established to protect, maintain and enhance the Nimmie-Caira environment, relax constraints to water delivery and help “bridge the gap” to Sustainable Diversion Limits in the Murrumbidgee. The project area consists of over 80,000 hectares of land that support a range of wetland-dependent species, including threatened species such as the Australian painted snipe, southern bell frog and the Australasian bittern.
The Lowbidgee Floodplain extends from Balranald to near Waradgery Station, west of Hay, in south-western New South Wales. The floodplain covers about 200,000 hectares and includes some of the largest lignum wetlands in New South Wales. It is an important bird breeding site, particularly for the royal spoonbill, great egret, straw-necked ibis, Australian white ibis and glossy ibis.
The Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is an independent regulator established under the NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator Act 2017. NRAR is responsible for detecting, preventing and stopping illegal water activities relating to areas such as water acquisition and use, environmental concerns such as water runoff, and the safety of infrastructure.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) undertakes activities that support the sustainable and integrated management of the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin in a way that best meets the social, economic and environmental needs of the Basin and its communities. MDBA leads the planning and management of Basin water resources, and coordinates and maintains collaborative long-term strategic relations with other Australian Government, Basin state government and local agencies; industry groups; scientists and research organisations.
To improve trust and transparency in implementing the Commonwealth’s Basin water reform agenda by delivering greater consistency and harmonisation of water regulation across the Basin and strengthening Basin Plan compliance and enforcement.
Water resource plans set out the rules for how water is used at a local or catchment level, including limits on how much water can be taken from the system, how much water will be made available to the environment, and how water quality standards can be met.
A key objective of WaterNSW is to ensure that declared catchment areas, and water management works in those areas, are managed and protected to promote water quality, the protection of public health and public safety, and the protection of the environment.
Stay up to date
Bring the best of the Murrumbidgee directly to your inbox.