Key catchment Murrumbidgee River at Narrandera

Supporting a complex range of natural ecosystems, the Murrumbidgee catchment has many significant wetland habitats of international ecological importance. The climate is diverse, ranging from the alpine conditions of the Snowy Mountains to the semi-arid conditions of the Riverina plains.

For detailed information on climate, land use, the environment, water resources and management, refer to the water resources and management overview publication for this catchment.


Murrumbidgee locality map

The Murrumbidgee catchment is in southern NSW. It is bordered by the Great Dividing Range to the east, the Lachlan catchment to the north, and the Murray catchment to the south.

Catchment area

The Murrumbidgee catchment is 84,000 square kilometres, with elevations ranging from over 2,200 metres to the east, to less than 50 metres on the western plains.

Major towns

The national capital, Canberra, as well as Wagga Wagga, the largest inland city in NSW, are in the Murrumbidgee catchment. The catchment also supports a number of regional cities and towns including Balranald, Cooma, Cootamundra, Griffith, Gundagai, Hay, Junee, Leeton, Narrandera, Queanbeyan, Tumut and Yass.

Rivers and tributaries

The Murrumbidgee River, a major tributary of the Murray-Darling River system, drains much of southern NSW and most of the ACT. It spans almost 1,600 kilometres, rising in the Monaro Plains near Cooma and flowing westward towards its junction with the Murray River near Balranald. The Murrumbidgee is regulated downstream of Burrinjuck Dam, with the Tumut, Gudgenby, Naas, Molonglo, Queanbeyan, Cotter and Yass rivers as key tributaries. The Tumut River, the Murrumbidgee's largest tributary, is regulated downstream of Blowering Dam and part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme.

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 Murrumbidgee catchment on this website.

Major water storage

The two largest storages in the Murrumbidgee catchment are Blowering Dam, with a capacity of 1,628,000 megalitres, and Burrinjuck Dam with a capacity of 1,026,000 megalitres. Talbingo Dam, at 920,550 megalitres, is the largest dam in the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Tantangara Dam – 254,080 megalitres, and Googong Dam – 125,000 megalitres, are also major dams within the catchment area.

Major water users

Land use in the Murrumbidgee catchment is dominated by extensive agriculture, with the largest industry, grazing, occupying 64 per cent of the catchment. Major water users include local councils and water utilities, forestry, tourism, and agriculture, including rice, dairy, wool, wheat, beef, lamb, grapes and citrus.

Key water management

Sharing water fairly between competing water users and the environment, particularly during drought, is a key water management issue.

As part of the interstate River Murray Waters Agreement administered by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), water resources in the Murrumbidgee River Basin are shared between NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

The basin has been drought declared since 2004, with river flows reaching record lows and extraordinary water sharing arrangements implemented to secure water supplies for towns and critical water-dependent industries. The MDBA is developing the Basin Plan to set new rules to govern water sharing in the Murray-Darling Basin to manage ongoing drought and climate change.

The alteration of natural river flows through the construction of dams and weirs, and erosion from land clearing affect riverine health and contribute to water quality problems, such as salinity.

Environmental values

The Lowbidgee floodplain, covering an area of over 2000 square kilometres in the catchment area, includes the second largest river red gum forest in Australia. The extensive lignum swamps provide breeding habitat for large numbers of waterbirds. A part of the wetlands is conserved within Yanga National Park, the largest conservation area on the Murrumbidgee floodplain.

The Ramsar listed Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps, near Leeton, are wetlands that support a diversity of waterbird species, especially migratory waders.

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:

  • Lower Murrumbidgee Groundwater
  • Murrumbidgee Regulated River
  • Murrumbidgee Unregulated and Alluvial
  • NSW Murray-Darling Basin Fractured Rock Groundwater
  • NSW Murray-Darling Basin Porous 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 Murrumbidgee Valley - progress report 2009 (PDF, 4798.2 KB) summarises activities undertaken in the previous water year and provides an interim assessment of outcomes from the investigations.

More information

Catchment overview

The water resources and management overview for the Murrumbidgee catchment provides information on climate, land use, the environment, water resources, and river operations and management.