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The Murray-Darling Basin science

Science plays a vital role in helping to secure a sustainable future for Australia's food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin.

  • 7 October 2010 | Updated 24 July 2014

Science review of the estimation of an environmentally sustainable level of take for the Murray-Darling Basin (NEW)

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CSIRO's role in the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

CSIRO has provided some of underlying research, models and data to help inform the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including detailed analyses such as the Murray-Darling Basin Sustainable Yields Project.

The balance of environmental, social and economic outcomes that the Basin Plan seeks to deliver were determined by the MDBA.

At the invitation of the MDBA, CSIRO led a review of the environmental and hydrologic science, modelling and analyses used by MDBA to help determine Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs).

CSIRO is not endorsing any particular level of SDL or balance of outcomes for the Basin Plan.

Science Review

In June 2011 the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) invited CSIRO to lead a review of parts of the information base and analyses used by MDBA to determine an environmentally sustainable level of take for surface water and thus establish proposed SDLs.

The review was limited to a consideration of the environmental and hydrologic science, modelling and analyses used by MDBA and considers recent refinement to the methods and their combined application in guiding the preparation of the proposed Basin Plan.

CSIRO assembled a team of leading Australian water scientists from several institutions to undertake the review between July 2011 to October 2011.

The review stresses that the hydrologic and environmental modelling and analyses is an important input, but not the only input, to the MDBA’s determination of SDLs. 

Socio-economic analyses have also informed the determination of SDLs and these analyses were not considered in the CSIRO-led review.

What the Science Review found

The review found that, in the context of an adaptive management approach, there is sufficient science available to make an informed decision on environmentally sustainable level of take, and that the body of work undertaken by the MDBA represents a sufficient basis to begin an adaptive process of managing the level of take.

The review is generally supportive of the scientific and technical modelling work undertaken by the MDBA. 

The review identifies areas where existing knowledge is limited and aspects of the modelling work that can be strengthened to reduce uncertainties in the modelling results.

The MDBA asked the review committee to consider one set of MDBA modelling results for a “2800 GL/yr reduction scenario”. The results indicate which of the flow targets for specified ecological outcomes are likely to be met under this scenario. Several of the targets cannot be easily met because of operational constraints in the regulated river system. Under this scenario many, but not all, of the specified targets that are deemed achievable in the regulated system are met.

Read the 46 page report Science Review of the Estimation of an Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take for the Murray-Darling Basin [PDF 691KB].

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