Key catchment Barwon-Darling

The Darling River is the longest river in Australia and flows for about 2,750 kilometres from its upper catchment in the Great Dividing Range to its junction with the Murray River in south-western NSW. This information focuses on the unregulated section of the catchment comprising the Barwon and Darling Rivers upstream of the Menindee Lakes.


Key catchment map Barwon-Darling

The Barwon-Darling River flows through north-western NSW from Mungindi on the NSW-Queensland border to Wentworth in south-western NSW.

Catchment area

The Darling River and its tributaries drain a total area of 699,000 square kilometres of NSW and southern Queensland. The NSW catchment upstream of Menindee is approximately 355,000 square kilometres, or around 155,000 square kilometres if excluding the major tributaries.

Major towns

Mungindi, Brewarrina, Walgett, Bourke, Wilcannia, and Menindee. The major township and mining centre of Broken Hill is also in the catchment.

Rivers and tributaries

The Barwon River is formed by the junction of the Macintyre River and the Weir River upstream of Mungindi. The Barwon River is joined by a number of major tributaries – the Gwydir, Namoi, Castlereagh, Macquarie and Bogan Rivers from the south, and the Culgoa River from the north.

Downstream of the Culgoa junction the river becomes the Darling. The Warrego and Paroo Rivers are the only significant tributaries that join the Darling River downstream of Bourke, and these flow into the river only during major flooding. Downstream of Wilcannia the Darling River flows into the Menindee Lakes Scheme, a series of seven large, shallow lakes that have been modified for water storage.

Real-time flow data

The department monitors the condition of river systems in NSW and provides regular updates on water levels, rainfall, water temperature and electrical conductivity.

View real time data from the Barwon-Darling.

Major water storage

The Barwon-Darling is considered an unregulated river above the Menindee Lakes. While there are a number of major headwater storages in its tributaries, including the Border Rivers, Gwydir, Namoi, and Macquarie catchments, these dams are too far upstream to regulate flow in the Barwon-Darling River. There are many weirs, however, in the Barwon-Darling that have a major influence on water quality and water supply for users along the river.

Major water users

Water users along the Barwon-Darling rely on the river for town water supply, livestock grazing, and irrigated agriculture including cotton, citrus, grapes, and vegetables. The cotton and citrus industries in the catchment are significant users.

Key water management issues

NSW and Queensland manage the catchment's cross border systems. Sharing water resources between the states and supply consumptive and environmental needs are a key water management issues.

Parts of the Barwon-Darling catchment were in severe drought from 2001 to 2009. River flows during this time reached record lows and extraordinary water sharing arrangements were implemented to secure water supplies for towns and critical water-dependent industries. Securing enough water for critical human needs during drought, while protecting riverine health is a key challenge. In contrast the first few months in 2009, 2010 and 2012 saw major flood flows enter the system.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is developing the Basin Plan to set new rules to govern water sharing in the Murray-Darling Basin. The NSW Office of Water will ensure that the needs of NSW water users and the environment are taken into account.

The alteration of the river's natural flow regime through the construction of weirs, and water extraction affects riverine health contributing to water quality problems, such as salinity and algal blooms.

Environmental values

The Talyawalka Lakes are a series of 19 large overflow lakes fed by Talyawalka Creek, a high level anabranch that leaves the Darling River near Wilcannia. Although not often full, the Talyawalka Lakes are of national significance for their waterbird habitat.

The sinuous nature of the Barwon-Darling River has resulted in the formation of many small lagoons and anabranches along its length. These provide valuable local wetland habitat after floods.

Water sharing plans

To preserve water resources in river and groundwater systems for the long term it is critical to balance the competing needs of the environment and water users. Water sharing plans establish rules for sharing water between the environmental needs of the river or aquifer and water users, and also between different types of water use such as town supply, rural domestic supply, stock watering, industry and irrigation.

Water sharing plans in this catchment:

  • Barwon-Darling Unregulated and Alluvial
  • NSW Great Artesian Basin Groundwater
  • NSW Great Artesian Basin Shallow Groundwater
  • NSW Murray-Darling Basin Fractured Rock Groundwater

Visit water sharing plans for a status update.

Under the Water Management Act 2000 all water sharing plans are required to have performance indicators to assess whether the plans have been effective in meeting their objectives. The Environmental flow response and socio-economic monitoring Far West NSW - progress report 2011 (PDF, 4672.05 KB) summarises activities undertaken in the previous water year and provides an interim assessment of outcomes from the investigations.