Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Murray-Darling Basin Plan
Richard Kingsford
Professor Richard Kingsford
Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Australian Wetlands, Rivers and Landscapes Centre at UNSW.
UNSW research has influenced a multi-billion-dollar water management plan for the Murray-Darling Basin’s iconic rivers, which support a third of Australian agricultural production and precious wetlands.

The Murray-Darling Basin is one of the largest and most iconic river systems in Australia and the lifeblood of the country’s food bowl.

Its 23 rivers span four states and sustain roughly 39% of agricultural production – an annual average of about A$15 billion worth of produce.  

Sharing river water is a complicated process. Irrigators need water to fuel crop growth and communities need clean drinking water, but over-extraction has serious environmental consequences.

UNSW researchers led by Professor Richard Kingsford have played a pivotal role in advising the government on its multi-billion-dollar management plan to rehabilitate the Murray-Darling Basin and ensure its long-term sustainability.

For nearly three decades, Kingsford has been conducting fieldwork throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, assessing the impact of dams and irrigation on river and wetland health, and understanding how different organisms and ecosystems respond to different flow regimes and climate change.

“My work has identified some of the key degradation problems for wetlands and flood plains,” says Kingsford, who believes his most significant contribution has been his “communication of the problem to the wider community”. 

Recently he and his research team have been investigating the Basin’s Macquarie River, which flows into the Macquarie Marshes – an ecosystem that Australia has promised to safeguard under a global environmental treaty known as the Ramsar Convention.

This work was a key driver for the government-driven response to increase the amount of environmental flow back into the river, he says.

Kingsford is a member of the Australian Government’s Environmental Water Scientific Advisory Panel, and helped review the environmental watering section of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. His work on adaptive management and vast data sets compiled by his research teams, also helped shape the plan’s framework.

“Over many decades, Richard has developed one of the most comprehensive understandings of some parts of the Basin, like the Macquarie Marshes and Narran Lakes,” says Jody Swirepik, Executive Director Natural Resource Management Division at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. 

“His work has been an important input to the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and to many other activities that help to get better environmental outcomes within and beyond the Basin.”

Kingsford’s team continues to collect information on the state of the Basin's wetlands and is monitoring the effectiveness of environmental flows.

“The government is spending billions of dollars on restoring the Murray-Darling through water buy-backs and building more efficient infrastructure,” says Kingsford. “We want to ensure the money is being well spent in terms of the environmental outcomes."

Quote: 
"Richard's work has been an important input to the development of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and to many other activities that help to get better environmental outcomes within and beyond the Basin."
Author: 
Jody Swirepik, Executive Director Natural Resource Management Division, Murray-Darling Basin Authority