Due to rapidly rising salinity levels in the Murray river the Murray Darling Basin Commission
developed the “Salinity and Drainage Strategy” in 1988 (MDBC, 1989). The Salinity and Drainage
(S&D) Strategy was an interstate program of action coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.
Acceptable guidelines for managing salinity and drainage along the Murray River were put together
with the cooperation and input of community, industry and government representatives from the states
of NSW, Vic and South Australia, and the Federal Government (DSE, DPI, 2005).
The specific objectives of the Strategy were to:
Improve water quality in the River Murray;
Control existing land degradation, prevent further land degradation, and where possible rehabilitate land resources;
Conserve the natural environment and preserve sensitive ecosystems with respect to salinity.
The S&D Strategy program consisted of four main elements:
Salt interception schemes - interception of saline groundwater before it enters the river;
New operating rules for some storages to reduce the loss of water through evaporation and thereby reduce river salinities;
The development of improved land management techniques, more efficient irrigation technology, and new crops for saline environments; and
Land management schemes to control land salinisation and waterlogging.
The Strategy aimed to strike a balance between reducing river salinity in the lower Murray, with
benefits for the 1.25 million urban, industrial and irrigation consumers in South Australia, while
also providing the opportunity to control waterlogging and land salinisation in upstream irrigation
areas of New South Wales and Victoria. The strategy was based on a balance between engineering
(interception schemes) and non-engineering (land and water management) solutions (MDBC, 2003).
An accounting framework was developed to “license” all existing and new salt inputs into the Murray
River system, making all States accountable for future actions leading to salt inputs to the river.
It also ensured that communities did not undertake activities that worsened salinity problem in other
areas (MDBC, 2003). Any new salt inputs would first have to be offset by salinity credits earned by
stopping existing saline drainage to the river, thus maintaining the 1988 salinity position. This
strategy led to a situation in which all new irrigation development from 1988 onwards had to be undertaken
with highly controlled drainage. Thus irrigation water use has increased and drainage has effectively
been restricted; this ultimately has contributed to reduced river flows.
The S&D Strategy was a milestone in the management of natural resources in Australia in that it was
the first time that state governments agreed to jointly tackle a specific problem across borders, including
an agreement to spend funds outside of their jurisdiction (NSW Salinity Strategy, 2000).