Highlights from World Water Day: 
Murrumbidgee Irrigation

Murrumbidgee Irrigation shared how they deliver environmental flows to several sites, including Tuckerbil Swamp and the Ramsar listed Fivebough swamp, which have been critical in supporting the Australasian bittern breeding.  

Murrumbidgee Irrigation also shared news of a local orchardist, Orlando (Ronnie) Calabria – an 81-year-old orchardist – who has planted 30,000 trees in his lifetime to restore the local environment.

Photo courtesy of Murrumbidgee Irrigation


Highlights from World Water Day: Ricegrowers’ Association

The Ricegrowers Association (RGA) showed how the Australian rice industry is a trailblazer for sustainable irrigation farming, with Australian rice growers using 50% less water to grow one kilo of rice than the world average, and are recognised worldwide for growing high quality rice varieties suitable to Australia’s climate.

The farms where rice is grown host an enormous diversity of wildlife, including threatened or endangered species such as the critically endangered Australasian Bittern and Southern Bell Frog. One of Australia’s most endangered birds, the Australasian Bittern, otherwise known as “the Bunyip bird”, is rarely seen and is a globally threatened species. 

The Bitterns in Rice Project [1]  seeks to bridge the gap between agriculture and wildlife conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Rice growers together with scientists are supporting this project. From this project, we have discovered that there is a breeding population into the hundreds using NSW Riverina rice crops as breeding habitat. It is estimated that there is only about 2500 individuals remaining in three countries: Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.

Highlights from World Water Day: 
Cotton Australia

Cotton Australia shared that Australia is the most water efficient producer of cotton in the world, and is continuing to invest in research to improve water use efficiency. The Australian cotton industry achieved a 40% increase in water efficiencies in the decade to 2013.

On average cotton farms have approximately 42 percent of their land dedicated to native vegetation.  More than 42,000 birds representing 45 species were found on farm water storages in the Gwydir Valley, 153 bird species were found in natural vegetation in the Namoi Valley, and 450 species of invertebrates have been recorded in one cotton field during the summer. [1

Photo courtesy of Cotton Australia


Murray Irrigation

The environment is the single largest customer of Murray Irrigation, which has the largest geographic footprint of all irrigation infrastructure operators in NSW.  Through their agreement with the Office of Environment and Heritage, they are able to deliver environmental flows into  the Edward River, Jimaringle-Cockran and Gwynnes Creeks and the Tuppal Creek.  They also deliver both environmental and operational water into the Wakool River and Billabong Creek (which also service numerous communities in their footprint).

Murray Irrigation has also been working with local farmers and environmental water managers to deliver water through the Murray Private Wetlands Watering Program since its inception in the early 2000s.

EnvIrrigators campaign shows environmental stewardship of irrigation farmers

By Christine Freak

For World Water Day (March 22nd), the NSW Irrigators’ Council launched our EnvIrrigators campaign.

The campaign celebrated irrigation farmers’ environmental stewardship and contributions to water efficient, and thus sustainable, food and fibre production.

The campaign highlighted tremendous examples of irrigation farmers carefully managing their local environment in NSW.

  • Many of our farmers have wetlands on their property and work with the Office of Environment and Heritage to water the area to make a drought refuge for wildlife.
  • We have irrigation farmers in NSW undertaking Native Re-vegetation Programs on their farms to promote biodiversity.
  • We have irrigation schemes who deliver environmental water to valuable wetlands.
  • Furthermore, our irrigation farmers in Australia are some of the most water efficient in the world.


Highlights from World Water Day: Coleambally Irrigation Corporation Limited

CICL has been working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to use their water channel infrastructure to deliver environmental water to natural wetlands in the Coleambally area since 2015. CICL delivers environmental water to a number of native wetlands located on private property that have been otherwise disconnected from naturally occurring periodic water events.

By using their channel infrastructure, environmental water can be delivered to sites which otherwise would only ever be inundated in extremely wet years. These sites are privately owned, and the areas watered are being voluntarily managed by the owners for wildlife conservation.

The primary focus of OEH’s program in the area is the delivery of water to the Wargam Swamps in the south-western part of the CICL area, with water supplied via the West Coleambally Channel. These swamps are located 69km north of Deniliquin and 81km south-west of Coleambally and provide an important refuge habitat in the agricultural landscape for water birds.

CICL is currently partnering with OEH through their Saving Our Species initiative to secure the Southern Bell Frog population in the wild. CICL has also commissioned two field guides for native plants and birds of the Coleambally Irrigation District.

CICL has been working with the Bitterns in Rice team [1]  to monitor bittern breeding in the area and to help develop recommendations for bittern-friendly rice farming. More information about the first Bittern to be tracked by satellites as part of the Bitterns in Rice project, can be found here. [2

Coleambally Irrigation Area has undergone modernisation through a Land and Water Management Program, which is a joint government and community investment in improved land and water management to preserve the environmental sustainability. [3

By Mike Wade [1] and Stefanie Schulte

With the progressive implementation of the Basin Plan 2012 and the ongoing debate about how to best and most effectively achieve the triple bottom line objectives of the Water Act 2007, the NSW Irrigators’ Council initiated a project to better understand where effective partnerships and cooperative arrangements between irrigators and environmental water managers have let to positive outcomes for all – communities, the environment and rural businesses. Not only do we want to shine the light on great projects that are already underway, but also seek opportunities for small scale complementary measures and mutually beneficial partnership that could achieve a more effective and efficient environmental outcome while having no detrimental effects on rural industries and the communities that depend on them.

Needless to say, there are many great New South Wales examples that highlight how close collaboration between a diverse set of regional partners – including irrigators and the irrigation infrastructure operators [2] the NSW Government, researchers and local communities – lead to mutually beneficial environmental/industry outcomes. One inspiring example is the recently launched campaign “Water for Wildlife and Rice Project [3]” championed by the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia that builds on years of research, hard work and dedication by NSW rice growers [4] around “The Bitterns in Rice Project” [5]. The Bitterns in Rice Project was a project focused on how farming and wildlife conservation could work together to protect a globally endangered Australasian Bittern whose numbers have dwindled to only 1500-4000 in the world.

In order to explore whether there are more innovative ideas and new initiatives that could lead to improved environmental-social-economic outcomes in regional NSW, we started a dialogue with irrigators and irrigation representative bodies in NSW to ‘pick their brains’ on what else might be possible. While we were not surprised to hear many great ideas – some of which involved the use of existing irrigation infrastructure or other natural resource management activities – many irrigators told us that ‘in order to achieve success, everyone needs to be willing, cooperative and think outside the box’.

While we have not concluded yet the project yet (see below), we thought it might be worth looking at how other jurisdiction have approached ‘partnerships’ and how successful they have been. For that reason, we have spoken to Mike Wade, CEO of the Californian Farm Water Coalition to pose the questions: “what has/hasn’t worked?” and “what should we look out for when we are developing more effective partnerships in Australia?”.

 Mike, California has some complex water challenges, can you tell us a bit about these issues?

California is America’s biggest producer of agricultural products, in terms of both the value of production and the sheer number of crops produced. The farm gate value of California agriculture was US$46 billion in 2016 with the production of over 400 commodities. California is also America’s most populous state, containing almost 40 million people. In addition to the pressure on water supplies from a growing urban population, there is an added burden to increase support for the state’s environmental resources; California’s plants, animals, birds, and fish. As a result, there is a lot of competition for the state’s land and water resources.

  1. How have your farmers overcome some of these challenges?

The critical element in managing the wide range of competing stakeholders is cooperation. Battles over water resources have been happening since California’s Gold Rush [6] in 1849, prior to gaining statehood in 1850. Our current system of water rights, based on English Common Law, grew out of the conflicts between gold miners over who had senior rights to divert water for their mining claims. This process of “first in time, first in right” eventually evolved into the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation, which is fundamental in California today. Much of this water rights system [7] remains intact and was instrumental most recently in managing dwindling water supplies during California’s 2012-2016 drought.

In California, water rights are held by the State with the understanding that water is owned by the people. While they are considered a property right, California water rights are attached to the land and are not bought and sold by individuals as they are in Australia. The right to use water is permitted by the State under various forms including riparian rights, appropriative rights, groundwater rights, and federal reserved rights. All water use in California is required by the state constitution to be beneficially used and not wasted. Irrigation, as a practice, is considered to be a beneficial use although recently, some have tried to define certain types of irrigation or various crop choices to be wasteful and therefore not meeting California’s beneficial use standards. To date, those efforts have failed.

  1. Can you give us an example of a partnership that is working well? How did it come about? Who was involved?

Some of California’s most valuable partnerships have evolved through the cooperative efforts of urban and agricultural water users joining together to support environmental goals. For decades, the three sides often fought for their self-interests, hoping to gain the advantage and ultimately a bigger, more reliable water supply. Under the authority of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) [8], the balance, and a considerable amount of the state’s water supply, shifted in favour of the environment starting around 1992 with the federal Central Valley Project Improvement Act [9]. The process of adopting more stringent environmental laws and regulations lasted many years and has culminated with the imposition of two biological opinions in 2008 and 2009. Adopted to increase protections for the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta [10], these new rules significantly reduced the amount of water pumped from the estuary for the benefit of agricultural and urban water users. This resulted in the re-purposing of roughly 1 million acre-feet (1,233 GL) per year from agriculture and urban use to the environment.

That model has begun to shift, partly due to the failure of this redirection of massive volumes of water to correlate with improvements in fish populations. Salmon and Delta smelt have not rebounded as predicted so water users began looking for better science to help solve the problem. What they found was that non-flow (complimentary) measures play a bigger role in supporting the ecosystem than simply adding more water. That realization was enhanced through partnerships with environmental organizations looking for solutions that worked for farmers, urban water users, and the environment.

One such effort is called the Nigiri Project [11], named for a form of sushi with a slice of fish n top of a compact wedge of rice. The Nigiri Project uses harvested rice fields during the winter by flooding them and reintroducing salmon in an effort to mimic historic floodplains that once inundated the area. The results are encouraging with improved habitat for salmon and shore birds while maintaining productive farming operations during the summer.

  1. What are the signs of success?

Twenty years ago, a multitude of water users signed the Yuba Accord, which improved timing, as well as flows, on the Yuba River. In short, more cold water was made available for fish at the right times of the year to have a positive environmental impact while preserving water supplies for farmers to use when they needed it.

And new projects continue to develop today. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is a joint powers authority serving 28-member public water agencies, 26 of which contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation for water supply within the Central Valley Project. The agencies collectively deliver water to 1.2 million acres (485,600 hectares) of farmland, 2 million California residents and millions of waterfowl on nearly 200,000 acres (81,000 hectares) of managed wetlands in the Pacific Flyway.

Numerous members of the Authority have embarked on water supply and ecosystem restoration partnerships that provide valuable water supply reliability for both farmers and their managed wetland neighbours [12].

  1. What are you hoping you will be able to achieve in the context of partnerships for the next 10 years?

These successes, fuelled by multi-stakeholder partnerships, are achieving very encouraging results. More environmental groups, farmers, and public water agencies are willing to invest in cooperative research projects that are leading to measurable results. The environmental community finds success in creating more productive habitat that helps struggling fish populations. Agricultural and urban water users are able to look toward more reliable water supplies; learning that non-flow measures are more effective than an environmental water grab at achieving broad ranging ecosystem goals.

  1. Are there any take-home lessons for Australia?

Look for common ground. We don’t always agree on everything but even the most diverse group of stakeholders can find areas of common interest on which they can work together. That is where the real successes are. Defining common goals and working together to achieve common interests is the solution that has often eluded California water users for more than a century.

Further details:

If you have any involvement in environmental watering or have a great idea how it could be improved, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with NSWIC via email nswic@nswic.org.au


[4] In partnership with Birdlife Australia, the Australian Government, Coleambally Irrigation,  Murray Irrigation, National Landcare Programme, Rural Industries (Research and Development Corporation, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, Murrumbidgee Naturalists Fields, Murrumbidgee Landcare, Local Land Services Murray, Local Land Services Riverina and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

By NSW Irrigators’ Council

Over the last 35 years, the NSW Irrigators’ Council has worked tirelessly to protect irrigators’ rights to use water. While the issues the Council has been involved in have grown substantially since its humble beginnings in 1983, our work now expands beyond the borders of NSW and Australia.

Over the last six years, the Council has been invited to advise on several Australian water management issues and speak at international events, including in the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel to share our experiences and expertise in Australia’s water resource management, State and Federal water reform processes and water governance framework.

This year, our Policy Manager Stefanie Schulte had the opportunity to attend the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia (Brazil) where she met and engaged with government officials, water resource professionals and industry experts on key water resource management and water security issues across the globe.

Over the five days in Brazil, Stefanie joined discussions on water governance; the use of smart technology to manage water resources; and, energy-food-water challenges as well as how to engage the next generation of water professionals through social media, online platforms and gaming.

Stefanie also represented the Council on an international panel, where she and Claire Miller, former manager policy strategy at Dairy Australia, spoke on the principles of Australia’s water allocation framework, demand management options and trade. Aside from discussing the necessary pre-conditions for Australia’s water markets, Claire and Stefanie also touched on some of the emerging regulatory and policy challenges for Australia’s water resource management. Both emphasised the need for strong regulatory frameworks underpinning the water allocation and trading regimes, and government management of trade transactions.

The panel session that Claire and Stefanie presented at was titled “Can water management and allocation systems lead to sustainable use of water?”, and was one of 95 sessions convened under nine Themes. This session under the Development theme brought together shared experiences in systems and technologies to allocate, regulate and efficiently manage water use by all stakeholders including industry and the environment.

Water markets, metering, licensing, centralized management, user pays and leveraging private investment are all being tried, in combination and alone, to achieve the rational and efficient sharing, management and use of water among competing stakeholders. The panellists debated the relative merits of various international water allocation regimes and teased out the local contexts in which each framework was established and is now administered.

Panellist Layla Lambiasi, from the Centre for Sustainability Studies of Fundação Getúlio, Vargas, Brazil, explained that water markets were among the options being explored in Brazil to address water scarcity, with Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan among the international case studies informing local  policy. Markets were seen as legally feasible and technically desirable, but politically uncertain.

Wesley Gabrieli de Souza, from Brazil’s National Water Agency described the severe drought conditions that spread across Brazil from 2014 to 2016, and the challenges of financing water allocation decisions; ensuring the sustainable operation, maintenance and monitoring of the water infrastructure; and, managing conflicts around irrigation and water supply systems, investments in water use efficiency and lost profits.

Ju Hee Jeung from K-Water in South Korea, explained that South Korea’s water use and supply systems were now shifting from the post-World War II priority of basic use and development toward water  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

She showed how increasing domestic use was driving up overall water use in her country, even as agricultural use has declined since the turn of the Century. This was pushing South Korea to the limits of its water supply, despite enjoying higher than the global average rainfall. Several rivers had been closed to further water allocations, and systems were generally overallocated even with water rights holders using only 35% of their entitlement.ater  for economic growth, environmental protection and social development.

Finally, Anthony Akpan, from the Pan Africa Vision for the Environment based in Lagos, Nigeria, promoted the value of good governance at all levels, public and private, to improve quality of life, access to water, and protecting cultural and biological diversity.

In each of the case studies, it became clear that water allocation frameworks require careful planning, ongoing strategic investment and considerations of context specific environments to manage scarcity, competing interests and changing future water challenges.

Also, it was acknowledged that no water allocation system is yet sophisticated enough to warrant complacency on previous achievements or future reform processes. Room for improvement can be found everywhere, whether through smarter systems, better institutional design, improved stakeholder engagement or effective partnerships.

The final key messages from the Development Theme were that:

  • As a key water user, agriculture must increase its participation in water management discussions.
  • Land-energy-water can’t be managed/planned independently.
  • Water allocation must be done in a more equitable and inclusive way that can drive social and economic development.
  • An integrated approach urban-rural must be applied for water resources (fresh & groundwater) planning and management.
  • Assure that investments and policies in water infrastructure are done considering multi-objectives and sustainable allocations.

The panel discussion was tied closely into the overall World Water Forum’s theme: “Sharing Water”. As the Brazilian president declared at the opening ceremony, more than two billion people across the world are still without access to clean drinking water.

Coordinated and cooperative policy development is necessary to achieve an adequate access to water in each country while ensuring that water resources are used and managed sustainably for current and future generations in addition to providing for future economic growth and development.

This point was particularly important to the Brazilian president, whose country had just struggled through a severe water crisis.  Many years before the media warned of an approaching ‘Day Zero’ for Cape Town, South Africa, one of the largest cities in the southern hemisphere, São Paulo, nearly ran out of water.

In 2014, São Paulo found itself in the midst of the worst drought in its recorded history with less than 20 days’ water supply before taps would run dry. While extreme water restrictions, ad-hoc engineering fixes to the city’s ailing infrastructure and some rainfall averted a water catastrophe, the recent memory of the crisis is still very vivid when the Brazilian president.

Other global leaders expressed their views on the need for further investment in capturing and treating water, water efficiency projects and sharing best practice experiences around water management and water allocation – a task estimated to cost more than $US650 billion worldwide.

However, the call for future investment was not the only key message from the World Water Forum. Participants were reminded that we are likely heading towards a future marked by greater water scarcity and more frequent water crises.

As the recent report by the High-Level Panel on Water “Making Every Drop Count: An Agenda for Water Action” declared, parts of our planet today are suffering from either devastating drought or destructive droughts, increasing water stress that restrains social progress and economic development.

“Water is a matter of life – not just for our health, food security, energy production, jobs and cities but also for vital ecosystems.”

As such, the concept of sharing and recognising the legitimate uses of water was a strongly theme of this year’s World Water Forum with an urge to adjust our mindset from conflict to cooperation to reach sustainability.

Like the rest of the world, Australia remains a ‘work in progress’ when it comes to the management and allocation of water resources. While Australia has achieved a lot (both positive and negative), more work is ahead of us as we head toward the next World Water Forum in Senegal in 2021.



Footnote/ Explainer:

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water-related event, organised under the umbrella of the World Water Council (WWC) which brings together a diverse set of stakeholders (400 institutions from 70 countries) interested in water.

The WWC mission is to “promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues and to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning and management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all”.

The WWC provides a platform to encourage debates and exchange experiences around water resources management from around the world. The WWC organises the World Water Forum every three years together with the respective host country and city. To date, there have been eight editions of the World Water Forum, the latest one in Brazil being the first that has been held in the Southern Hemisphere.

Editorial by NSW Irrigators’ Council

Now celebrating its 30th year as the peak representative body for irrigators in the state, the NSW Irrigators Council is embarking on a new journey with a change in leadership. We look forward to introducing you to our new CEO,
Mark McKenzie when he takes the helm at NSW Irrigators Council shortly. You will no doubt be familiar with our previous CEO, Andrew Gregson. Andrew not only contributed a great deal to the organisation through some very tough times, recall the Murray Darling Basin negotiations for a start, but was the driving force behind the creation and support for this magazine.
Andrew completed his contract with the organisation at the end of January and has taken on a role as Head of Corporate Affairs for a multi-national organisation. Still based in Sydney, but with far more travel now involved in his position, we hope to still have the opportunity to see him on the odd occasion.
Having contributed many articles to the pages of Productive Water, he has not let us down in this issue with a major piece being written on his trip to Colorado and the gas operations that share land and water resources with irrigators and farmers in that State.
In addition, the magazine is filled with news and articles on electricity, water trading and a follow up piece on the ‘Asian century’. We hope you enjoy it.

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Autumn 2014 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

We’ve just concluded our first Conference. Held at Old Parliament House in Canberra, it attracted great numbers and some sensational international keynote speakers. The theme of the event was Perspectives on Irrigated Agriculture and was designed to prod people – in the words of Professor Tony Allan – to “think differently”.
Why “think differently”? Simple, really; a different perspective on a problem is a great way to find a solution that in hindsight might be obvious. It is very simple to be caught up in the day-today issues in which we find ourselves dealing. To occasionally take the time to step back, look from a different angle and to view the bigger picture can be most rewarding. It allows us to refocus, to see where it is that we’re trying to go and to fashion a path to get there.
The last session of the day was titled “What Have We Learned”. Its aim was to ensure that people captured something from the event; that they identified at least something in the day that was worth remembering and acting upon. I know I certainly did. In listening to the views of our two international keynote speakers – Professor Tony Allan from Kings College of London and Mike Wade, the Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition – I quickly realised that we’re not alone. Irrigators in Australia are facing many of the same issues that those in California and Europe are facing. We’re all dealing with it in subtly different ways, which is ideal; there is much for us to learn from others. What works in dealing with public perceptions in California might well work here. At very least, it’s worth a try. A big realisation for me, though, came from Professor Allan. Like all good realisations, it’s one that is perfectly obvious in hindsight. The demand for water is not driven by irrigators – it’s driven by consumers. We grow what consumers demand. It is the consumer, then, that must take at least part of the responsibility for the use of water in agriculture.

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Winter 2013 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

As I write, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan passes its last Parliamentary hurdle. Today is technically the last day that a disallowance motion could be put. The Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, has marked the occasion by having a Member on his own side of the Parliament ask a question about it. Known as a “Dorothy Dixer”, these questions are designed to give the Government the opportunity to profess how wonderful they are. It’s pure theatrics and generally utterly irrelevant to the running of the country. Compounding the theatricality is Minister
Burke’s decision to nominate one activist for his role in bringing about the Plan. He even invited that activist to be present in the House for the question.
Henry Jones is a fisherman on  the lower Lakes. Apparently it’s important that he carry on the inter-generational fishing business in that part of the world and that his catch feed people. Of course, to do so sees enormous ramifications for other inter-generational businesses (irrigation farms) and the reduction of capacity to feed many, many more people.
But Canberra is like that. What is patently absurd to anyone viewing from elsewhere can seem entirely reasonable in the national capital. It is a strange and fascinating world up there. So we thought we’d embrace that world and
descend upon it in July for our first ever conference. The move is being well received with the Shadow Minister confirming his attendance and the Minister likely to. Representatives of media organisations are making plans to cover it in detail, Commonwealth Departments are sending representatives (being some of the first to register) and overseas delegates planning to attend.
Why? Simply put, the conference has attracted a lineup of international guest speakers to consider a long-range future; to get out of the day to day and to view irrigation in Australia from other perspectives. We’d be delighted to have you join us, to have your say and to assist in having Canberra see through our eyes! The details are inside.

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Autumn 2013 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

I’ve heard the word “done” a lot in the last few days in reference to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, albeit in a range of contexts. I’ve heard “we’ve been done”, I’ve heard “the Greenies got done” but perhaps most troubling of all I’ve heard “it’s done”. The good news is that we’ve ended up with a Plan drastically better than it might have been, thanks in no small parts to the efforts of community and irrigation leaders who give their time to NSWIC. As the article inside attests, the Plan is a long way from perfect, but a long way from what it might have been. By no means, though, is it “done”. The implementation period lies ahead, and it is in that period that danger lies. During the last four years, we invested a whole lot of resource into ensuring the Plan was a discussion point around the dinner tables of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. We took a rural issue and made it important in urban electorates. That, to a large extent, assisted in softening the impact of the thing. The danger now lies in those  same dinner tables thinking it is “done” whilst we get “done” in the implementations. We need to be on top of – and involved in – Environmental Watering Plans, Water Recovery Strategies, Environmental Works and Measures
programs and countless funding and charging decisions. Each and every one of those has the capacity to turn the Plan on its head and leave us with the sort of outcomes that we don’t want. Now is the time for detail, the time to be vigilant and the time to be well informed. We need to hear from you and you need to hear from us. Thanks for staying in touch. 
ake no mistake – water is scarce and there are many competing demands. Ensuring sufficient Productive Water is and will continue to be an ongoing and difficult task. It’s far from done…

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Summer 2013 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

We’re at the pointy end of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. As I write, furious negotiations continue between the States and the Commonwealth to arrive at a position that they can support. There’s no guarantee that it will
be reached, but Federal Minister Tony Burke is sufficiently confident as to have extended the timeframe in which the States can make comment.
Inside this issue, we look at one of the longest running and most vexed issues in NSW water infrastructure – Menindee Lakes. There can be little doubt that this system is an engineering feat in the first instance, but more clearly needs to be done to ensure their efficient operation. Evaporation in that part of NSW can run as high as two metres per year resulting in whopping losses of water when they’re full – as they are now. Irrigators across the State have an interest in seeing that system managed efficiently.
At the same time, focus on water recovery at Menindee brings into start contrast the absurdity of the entire Murray-Darling Basin Plan debate. As one irrigator put it to me recently, what’s the point of saving water from evaporating at Menindee only to send it off to evaporate in the lower Lakes of South Australia? I had the great pleasure not too long ago to attend the 100th birthday of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Her Excellency,  Professor Marie Bashir, the Governor of New South Wales, spoke with such passion about the area in which she grew up that it was impossible not to be transported back to the time that our forebears carved such a magnificent
agricultural area from so little. Their forethought, effort and sacrifice created a food bowl that sustained Australia’s growth into the modern democracy that it is today.
As I drove through the area, appreciating it in a new light, I couldn’t help but marvel how far divorced Canberra is from this reality. What sort of mindset drives a policy maker to risk inflicting damage such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on the achievements our forebears made?

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Spring 2012 [HERE]