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Water Matters - Issue 43, September 2017

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Farmers look skyward to see the benefits of overhead irrigation

Thirsty for knowledge, irrigation farmers inspect an overhead irrigation machine.

The NSW Sustaining the Basin: Irrigated Farm Modernisation (STBIFM) program teamed up with Tocal College and CottonInfo to take farmers on a tour of overhead irrigation in the Gunnedah region earlier this year.

Overhead irrigation can give greater control over when and how much water is applied to a crop. Water savings can be dramatic, particularly in the early stages of growth or when rain provides unexpected extra moisture.

The clear message from the tour was that upgrading to an overhead system can increase yields and improve operational efficiencies, as well as delivering more efficient water use and greater flexibility in cropping decisions.

The first step in solving a problem is to know the problem. STBIFM encourages irrigators to assess on-farm water losses through seepage, evaporation, inefficient technology and irrigation management. Options for recovering losses can then be calculated to understand the benefits of investing in new irrigation systems.


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STBIFM Project Officer Peter Verwey has worked with many farmers who have undertaken a water efficiency assessment, and he believes the process provides valuable information.

‘We recommend working with an expert irrigation consultant who can thoroughly review all aspects of your system, and then suggest options to reduce water losses and get more production out of limited water entitlements,’ he said.

To help irrigators identify and quantify on-farm water losses, STBIFM has also launched an online Irrigated Farm Water Use Efficiency Assessment training module, which can be accessed from the training page of the STBIFM website.

The Australian Government has invested $111 million in the STBIFM program through the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program as part of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This funding is delivered by the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Visit NSW Sustaining the Basin: Irrigated Farm Modernisation for more information.


700 hectares of new irrigation infrastructure in Lake Boga

Brendan Watson oversees the property at Lake Boga, Northern Victoria.

In Lake Boga in northern Victoria, land manager Brendan Watson has seen many benefits from the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program (OFIEP) for the properties he manages with Kilter Rural on behalf of Australian superfund VicSuper. Irrigation infrastructure spanning more than 700 hectares has been installed, resulting in 776 mega litres of water being returned to the environment.

The Australian Government provided $3.7 million in funding for Kilter Rural’s OFIEP project via a delivery partner, the Australian Processing Tomato Research Council. This allowed Kilter to invest in improving and diversifying its operations.

An infrastructure manager with 25 years’ irrigation experience, Mr Watson oversees land that produces tomatoes, cotton, lucerne, maize, grain sorghum, barley and wheat.

Under the OFIEP project, more than 700 hectares of new subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) was installed, and a further 64 hectares of SDI and 240 hectares of new border check irrigation was installed alongside the project.

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Mr Watson said, ‘The SDI system allows us to confidently commit to long-term supply contracts for vegetables, grain and fibre crops knowing that we have a degree of insulation against high water prices.’

The infrastructure improvements have enabled him to grow crops that were not considered feasible in the region, while increasing the area of established crops.

The environmental impact has been significant.

‘The water savings generated from the development works associated with the OFIEP project are around two mega litres per hectare,’ Mr Watson said.

‘While this saving is significant, the larger benefit from the SDI has been water conversion. Our lucerne operation is on track to double the tonnes of hay produced per mega litre of water when compared to the previous border check irrigation.

‘The investment in land and water is premised on being sustainable. We see this as one of our key determinates of success in landscape renewal.

‘We very much farm within the landscape as opposed to making the landscape fit within the farming system, and this forms a key determinate in developing whole farm plans for our properties.’

Mr Watson said the conversion of land that has been irrigated in the past to a native pasture-based dry land grazing system, as well as landscape-scale revegetation efforts, offered significant ecological benefits, in addition to economic benefits.

‘To date, we have planted 120,000 trees with plans next year to plant a further 300,000,’ he said.

The positive impacts of OFIEP extend to the wider community, with Kilter directly employing 15 people in the Lake Boga and Kerang region this year, and more than 50 casual staff across the properties at key times of the year.

The On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program is part of the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program. It assists irrigators within the southern-connected system of the Murray–Darling Basin to modernise their on-farm irrigation infrastructure while returning water savings to the environment.

Visit On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program for more information.


Consultations to open for the review of the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement

Interested parties in the Lake Eyre Basin can have their say on the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Review 2017 when public consultation opens later this year. The four-week consultation period is planned to occur during October and November 2017.

The Intergovernmental Agreement brings together the Australian, Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory governments to manage cross-border water and related natural resources in the basin. The Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum must cause a review of the Agreement every 10 years.

The consultation will enable stakeholders to comment on the management of the Basin, the lessons learnt from implementation of the Agreement during the last ten years, and identify what they would like the Agreement to achieve in the future.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is coordinating the review. It is planned that the final review report will be provided to Ministers for consideration in late 2017. Feedback from the consultation process will be considered in finalising the review report.

The Lake Eyre Basin covers almost one sixth of Australia and is one of the world’s largest internally draining river systems. It supports a range of nationally important natural, social, cultural and economic values including unique and endangered plant and animal species.

Visit Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement for more information.


‘Only rain down the stormwater drain’ – ACT Healthy Waterways Project gets underway

Construction is underway on new ACT wetlands project

Construction has started on building two new wetlands at Isabella Ponds in Canberra, as part of the ACT Healthy Waterways Project to improve water quality in the ACT and the Murrumbidgee River system.

A variety of infrastructure works are planned in the ACT and region including wetlands, ponds and  rain gardens. These are designed to ‘turn off’ or reduce the amount of nutrients, sediment and pollutants entering waterways. The ACT Healthy Waterways Project is expected to be completed by mid-2019.

The Isabella Ponds wetlands will help to clean the stormwater before it enters Lake Tuggeranong, which in turn flows into the Murrumbidgee River.

Work on the wetlands has started early to coincide with an upgrade to Isabella weir. The simultaneous work will minimise disruption for local residents and pond users. Part of the weir has been demolished to allow for normal water flows while construction takes place.

Soil and sediment from the pond will be used to create the wetlands and, once the project is complete, the pond will be re-stocked with native fish. It will also attract birds and other native wildlife.

The infrastructure part of the project is paired with an education and behavioural change campaign called H2OK: keeping our waterways healthy. Its slogan, ‘Only rain down the stormwater drain’, aims to educate residents and members of the construction, cleaning and maintenance industries about keeping pollutants out of water.

The $93.5 million ACT Healthy Waterways Project is jointly funded by the Australian and ACT governments to improve the quality of water flowing into the Murrumbidgee River system.

Visit ACT Healthy Waterways Project to learn more.


Investing in infrastructure, investing in engineers of the future

Graduate Engineer Adam Dare says working on PIIOP projects is ‘a huge opportunity’.

More than 12 graduate engineers have gained practical experience working on large-scale irrigation projects since the start of Murray Irrigation’s Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program (PIIOP) projects.

The graduates have worked with Murray Irrigation, in the Riverina region, gaining skills and experience they wouldn’t have normally attained in their first jobs as engineers. They have also been working and living in rural communities.

One of the graduates, Adam Dare, has been working on Murray Irrigation's PIIOP Round 2 since early this year after graduating from La Trobe University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering.

Mr Dare said working on a $200 million project straight out of university was a huge opportunity.


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‘This network modernisation program has given me experience in diverse aspects of engineering, including civil, design and construction,’ he said.

Murray Irrigation’s graduate employment program demonstrates that investing in Australia’s irrigation infrastructure also involves investing in the skills of Australia’s future engineers.

Adam Dare’s project spanned across Murray Irrigation’s entire footprint, involving upgrading dated infrastructure with modern outlets and regulators and incorporating new automation and remote-control technology.

Warren Jose, the Murray Irrigation Executive Manager for Major Engineering Projects, said the project ‘provided graduates with an opportunity to improve their project management skills and develop a range of technical skills.’

‘Typically, graduates will assist our project managers to make sure construction remains safe, cost-effective and timely while working to complete the overall PIIOP Round 2 program,’ he said.

‘They receive on-the-job training and mentoring from experienced engineers within the project team.’

Murray Irrigation will receive up to $284 million in government funding under Rounds 2 and 3 of PIIOP in NSW.

The Private Irrigation Infrastructure Operators Program aims to improve the efficiency and productivity of water use and management of private irrigation networks while delivering water savings for the environment.

Visit PIIOP NSW to learn more about the Australian Government’s PIIOP investment and Murray Irrigation for information on its PIIOP projects.

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