Generating water for the environment and production

Water is an essential ingredient for producing food, to sustain local economies and for our rivers and streams to maintain the ecosystems that we value.

The West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) is charged with the management of land and water resources in the region. Southern Rural Water’s (SRW) role is to operate irrigation districts, manage large dams and groundwater and surface water extraction across southern Victoria. It would be easy to think that these organisations may be at loggerheads, each protecting their own rights – in fact, the relationship is quite the opposite. Both parties reap the benefits of working together and have a long history of doing so.

SRW Managing Director Clinton Rodda explained ‘As a water corporation charged with supplying raw water to a multitude of customers, we are acutely aware of the environmental challenges we all face in the need to protect the quality of freshwater and marine environments, we ensure that sustainable outcomes are delivered throughout our operations.’

The WGCMA and SRW have been working together with local farmers to reduce agricultural impacts from the Macalister Irrigation District (MID) on the Gippsland Lakes since 1998. The
Gippsland Lakes provide a major hub for tourism, particularly for recreational boating and fishing enthusiasts. The Lakes are of international significance and are protected under the Ramsar
convention.

Situated within the Gippsland Lake’s catchment, the Macalister Irrigation District (MID) has long been identified as a source of nutrients, with nutrient loads contributing to seasonal algal blooms within the Lakes. The Macalister Irrigation District is the largest irrigation district in the south of Victoria. It has secure water supplies, good rainfall, productive soils, a strong dairy sector and developing vegetable and cropping industries. The economic contribution of the irrigation area is estimated to be in excess of $500 million per annum.

Reducing nutrient loads

The WGCMA and SRW are key implementation partners of the Land and Water Management Plan (LWMP) which has a focus on improving the quality of water flowing into the Gippsland Lakes. Central to the implementation, the two organisations chair a quarterly engagement forum, called the MID Sustainability Group, which brings together regional agencies working around the MID with the common aim of improving both the productive and environmental sustainability of the irrigation district.

The combined actions of the two organisations, under the banner of the LWMP, has achieved some remarkable outcomes over the past two decades.

SRW has coordinated a nutrient monitoring program in the MID since 2000. A new river based sampling approach was implemented in 2014 providing a substantial improvement in data accuracy. This enables stakeholders to have more confidence in assessing the effectiveness of undertaking nutrient reduction activities.

‘Monitoring of waterways throughout the Gippsland Lakes catchment allows us to keep an eye on nutrient loads in different parts of the river systems. With on ground activities being implemented on many of the MID farms, we are able to monitor the impact of these over time’ commented WGCMA’s Chief Executive Officer Martin
Fuller.

Farm plans, installation of irrigation reuse schemes, fl ood to spray irrigation conversions and best practice surface irrigation upgrades are all funded as part of the MID Irrigation Efficiency Incentive Program. The program funds these on-farm projects to protect the health of the Gippsland Lakes. Funded by the state government, WGCMA manages this together with Agriculture Victoria.

The development of farm plans and the installation of reuse schemes have helped to increase economic productivity by saving water on farm for increased production. This has been particularly beneficial in drought times when every drop of water counts. It has enabled farmers to increase the area of irrigated land, increasing pasture growth and ultimately production.

Macalister Irrigation District Modernisation – MID 2030

SRW is modernising its aging delivery system in the MID, replacing out dated, leaky and manually operated channel delivery assets with new automated equipment. The MID2030 project is the perfect enabler for on-farm improvements which, in conjunction with the incentive program, is transforming irrigation and farming practices meaning more nutrients are staying on farm to promote production with less going to our waterways.

Reaping the benefits

The partnership between WGCMA and SRW also involves irrigation farmers, Agriculture Victoria and the state Department of Land, Water and Planning. The successful partnership approach was shortlisted for the Premier’s Sustainability Awards in 2015 and the Banksia Foundation’s Sustainability Awards in 2016.

The combined benefits of all parties working together have helped support a massive transformation in the MID over the past 20 years. Water savings made by irrigators has resulted in 14 GL of water available as an environmental entitlement benefiting the many species of birds, fish, insects, animals including platypus and native vegetation in and along the river. ‘Given the successes thus far, the next ten years offers the potential to build on the work done so far to identify water savings and continue to improve nutrient management for positive environmental
outcomes’ commented Martin Fuller.

 

This case study is part of the Our Catchments, Our Communities project funded by the Victorian State Government.