After seven years of scientific research and decades of Aboriginal advocacy, some Traditional Owner groups will have a voice and role in water management across the Murray-Darling Basin.
New research, launched on Friday, provides local Indigenous groups with practical steps to progress their water rights - such as using water resources - on their Country.
Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations Chair Fred Hooper said the project is a significant development.
"It's the first time we've been able to get a research program up and running that gives First Nations a really good tool to identify their water needs, particularly in an area like the Murray-Darling Basin where 90 per cent of the water is extracted for irrigation" he told NITV News.
Mr Hooper says the project will give some Aboriginal groups an opportunity to sit at the table.
"It gives First Nations a chance to develop their own water plans, to put those plans to state and federal government and to manage their own water resources," he said.
"It gives us the chance to really sit at the table with all the other stakeholders in the game with proper science and proper structured planning as well."
The National Cultural Flows Research was a seven-year long collaborative study with First Nations groups including the Nari Nari and Murrawarri peoples, and supported by leading water scientists, legal academics and water management agencies.
A suite of research products were developed including a methodology for quantifying water needs of First Nations groups, analysis of legal and policy options that can give effect to First Nations' water rights, and reports on how Aboriginal knowledge and custodianship can revitalise water management.
The basis of the research was to determine how 'cultural flows' - that is Aboriginal water entitlements that are legally and beneficially owned by Aboriginal nations - can improve land, environment and spirit.
Murray-Darling Basin Authority Chief Executive Phillip Glyde said, for the first time, the research has demonstrated the crucial link between culture, ecology and social well-being.
"It finds that cultural flows and environmental flows are not the same thing but can complement each other," he said.
"The Plan requires us to ensure Aboriginal interests are considered in ongoing water planning, management and monitoring activities and research like this informs how we can go about that in a meaningful way."
Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) Chair Rene Woods said the key tool will be the legislative provisions.
"One of the major works is the legislative requirements and potential changes... to go to government and say here is an opportunity to change the Water Management Act," he told NITV News.
"They [government] told us to go away and do the hard work and do the research. We've done it and we're back here today to launch it, and hopefully the states will pick it up and follow up on what we've found," he said.
He says for First Nations groups along the Basin the research is in their hands.
"It's their data they collect, it's their IP they'll keep. If they wanna share it with state water planners and others, it's totally up to them - all of the tools MLDRIN develops they make sure the data stays with the nation groups for their use and their use only."
The launch of the research follows the Coalition government's recent commitment of $40 million to acquire water entitlements for Aboriginal cultural and economic outcomes.
Agricultural and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said governments of all persuasions have been too slow.
"We haven't got it right, we've got to put our hand up," he said.
"In our haste to get the Murray-Darling sorted we didn't take the time, we didn't take the real time to sit and listen to the Traditional Owners well enough."
"I think this is the first step in making sure we've got the building blocks to get this right."
It follows a deal Labor struck with the government for greater checks and balances in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, earlier this year.
The Greens had earlier announced they would seek to block government changes to the plan, with Labor deciding not to join them.
Mr Littleproud says he's pleased both sides could come to an agreement.
"The reality is is that leadership has finally shone through, and I'm proud to say that I've had my hand out all the way and Tony Burke has too. I'm very proud of the fact that we've always had a constructive relationship in trying to get outcomes." he said.
- with AAP