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This initiative seeks to protect the environment and adapt to the impacts of climate change, while promoting productive and sustainable agriculture that is supported by modern infrastructure and policy through 2 distinct but interdependent program streams: Rural Water Infrastructure and Sustainable Irrigation.

These programs will continue to support:

  • modernised infrastructure
  • improved water efficiency
  • increased resilience to changes to water availability
  • achieve our shared responsibility for environmental health across Victoria’s irrigation sector.

Furthermore, it will support the decisions and viability of food producers and processors, who contribute significantly to the social fabric of regional communities.

The department, in conjunction with regional delivery partners (Catchment Management Authorities, Water Corporations and Agriculture Victoria), will support the future of irrigation with improvements to physical assets (both on- and off-farm), changes to farm systems, making information available and accessible, and leading institutional approaches following a significant period of modernisation across the sector.

Environmental contribution 5 (EC5)

Program title 2020-21 expenditure ($'000) 2021–22
expenditure ($'000)

Water wise rural communities


Summary of year one of Environmental contribution 5 (EC5)

Victoria’s irrigation sector is facing unprecedented challenges driven by socio-economic, climatic and environmental pressures, including declines in water availability, changes in global commodity markets and the rationalisation and modernisation of delivery infrastructure in irrigation areas.

Initiating and overseeing rural water infrastructure projects

The Rural Water Projects and Connections team of the Water and Catchments Group initiates and oversees rural water infrastructure projects while also securing funding for future rural water infrastructure investment in response to community expectations for government to address future water reliability and access.

The Rural Water Project (RWP) team’s objectives are:

  • Targeted and efficient investment in rural water infrastructure, ensuring rural communities are adequately prepared for drought and long-term water security. For example, the Macalister Irrigation District (MID) Phase 2 Modernisation Project and Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) Connections Project.
  • Improved rural water security in targeted areas: reduction in water losses and water returned to the environment through public investment demonstrate improvements in water efficiency.
  • Improved transparency and accountability of Government investment

Multiple projects completed

Ensured contractual completion of multiple projects, such as the

  • South West Loddon Rural Pipeline
  • Macalister Irrigation District Modernisation Project Phase 1B
  • Mitiamo Pipeline Project
  • Werribee Irrigation District Modernisation Project (Stages 1-3)
  • Australia’s largest irrigation project, the $2 billion GMW Connections Project.

These projects were delivered on time and budget and will generate water savings and improve water security for rural communities.

Priority water infrastructure projects

Attracted new Commonwealth investment into Victoria towards 7 priority water infrastructure projects. This includes the $177.5 million GMW Water Efficiency Project (WEP) to deliver further modernisation works in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and recover 15.9 gigalitres of water savings.

Submitted multiple funding bids to secure Commonwealth funding towards Victorian water infrastructure projects, including:

  • Commonwealth co-investment into 2 new capital projects
  • Werribee Irrigation District Modernisation (Stages 4-5)
  • Bellarine Recycled Water for Agriculture, in addition to funding for the development of several business cases.

National Water Grid Fund Connections Funding Pathway

Investment under the National Water Grid Fund Connections Funding Pathway with funds supporting 9 construction projects, including:

  • Horsham Agriculture SmartWater for Grains Project
  • Macalister and Bacchus Marsh Resilience & Critical Infrastructure Projects
  • Kyneton Recycled Water Irrigation Project.

Governance and oversight of water infrastructure projects

Provided governance and oversight on water infrastructure projects (including feasibility and business case studies) through managing contracts with Rural Water Corporations and bilateral project schedules with the Australian Government. The department is also a member of quarterly project oversight groups and provides State oversight of the progress of projects against milestones.

These water infrastructure projects include:

  • GMW Water Efficiency Project
  • Western Irrigation Network
  • East Grampians Rural Pipeline
  • Macalister Irrigation District Phase 1B
  • Macalister Irrigation District Phase 2
  • Connections Grid Connections Small Project Package
  • Mitiamo Pipeline Project
  • Werribee Irrigation District (Stages 4-5)
  • Bellarine Recycled Water for Agriculture
  • Ten feasibility and business case projects across Victoria

Sustainable Irrigation Program (Water Wise Rural Communities) implementation

For 30 years the Sustainable Irrigation Program (SIP) has worked to improve environmental and productivity outcomes for irrigated agriculture in Victoria, primarily focussed within major irrigation areas. This includes:

  • Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID)
  • Victorian Mallee region
  • the Macalister Irrigation District (MID)
  • and more recently, in the North East and South West of Victoria.

Throughout 2020-2024, Sustainable Irrigation Program (SIP) will focus on increasing the adaptability of irrigation communities to reduced water availability and climate variability by providing information and support for planning, decision-making and practice change.

This will support the increased resilience of regional communities and improve environmental outcomes in irrigation areas. More efficient use of water in agriculture is a key part of growing the resilience and adaptability of the irrigation sector as the climate becomes increasingly more variable.

Sustainable Irrigation Stream

Implementation of the sustainable irrigation stream of the Water Wise Rural Communities initiative has progressed through project development processes undertaken by the department, Catchment Management Authorities (CMA), Agriculture Victoria and other regional partners.

Under this initiative, regional Land and Water Management Plans have continued to be implemented or updated, providing direction on regional responses to improve the sustainability of irrigated agriculture, including:

  • Mallee CMA’s renewed Land and Water Management Plan and updated Irrigation Development Guidelines endorsed by the department in September 2021.
  • North Central CMA has finalised the Loddon Campaspe Irrigation Region Land and Water Management Plan (LWMP), launched in November 2021 by the then Parliamentary Secretary for Water.
  • Goulburn Broken CMA celebrated the 30-year milestone for implementing its Shepparton Irrigation Region LWMP in December 2021. Reviewing and renewing the plan to ensure it is contemporary to the issues in the Goulburn Murray Water area started in earnest in 2022.
  • Endorsement of the Northern Victorian Irrigation Development Guidelines covering the Goulburn Murray Water Region by the department in September 2021. With work progressing on developing an updated set of irrigation development guidelines in South West and West Gippsland.
  • North East CMA and West Gippsland CMA continue to implement their respective land and water management plans with support provided to the community, including irrigation extension advice and targeted incentive programs.

Implementation of regional Land and Water Management Plans

The implementation of regional Land and Water Management Plans (LWMPs) has continued to support:

  • the delivery of a range of incentive programs
  • extension support (including online activities during COVID restrictions)
  • gathering information on land and water use trends in irrigation regions across the state through the Regional Irrigated Land and Water Use Mapping (RILWUM) program to support policy and programs development and implementation by the Victorian Government.

This has worked in concert with additional on-farm support for the implementation of the GMW Water Efficiency Project, being rolled out with the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (noting that this is funded through separate initiative funds).

Basin Salinity Management 2030 (BSM2030) strategy

Victoria has continued implementing the Basin Salinity Management 2030 (BSM2030) strategy and ensuring Victoria’s compliance with the Murray Darling Basin agreement.

A comprehensive report on the salinity management actions undertaken was submitted to the Murray Darling Basin (MDBA) 2021-22 as part of ensuring compliance and managing the impacts of salinity.

An Independent Audit Group (IAG) reviewed the progress of actions by basin jurisdictions against the BMS2030 strategy and provided recommendations on future actions to ensure ongoing effective management processes. Victoria has responded to the MDBA on these recommendations and continues to implement as appropriate.

Integrated Accountable Action Model (IAAM)

The development of the Integrated Accountable Action Model (IAAM) has continued to make progress. This model will support the assessment of the Barr Creek and Tragowel Plains accountable actions and provide a contemporary understanding of salinity impacts and risks in this part of Victoria.

Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program Strategic Directions 2020-24

The Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program Strategic Directions 2020-24 were finalised and are guiding actions to improve irrigation drainage management in Victoria. Funding approved during 2020-22 has targeted engagement, design, and agreements for works or reinstatement of natural drainage lines within the Shepparton Irrigation Region and nutrient management processes with the Macalister Irrigation District.

Rural Water Policy implementation project

The key objectives and outcomes for the Rural Water Policy Implementation project is to increase the responsiveness and uptake of rural water policy across the irrigation sector.

The responsive policy will support a vibrant, productive and sustainable irrigation sector in Victoria, both on and off farm supporting wise water use, resilience to climate change and by managing the impacts of irrigated agriculture on behalf of the State.

This will be achieved at both the local and regional levels and the broader state level outlined through the Sustainable Water Strategies (SWS).

Irrigators’ Share Distribution project

Coordinated implementation of the Irrigators’ Share Distribution project, in partnership with Goulburn Murray Water and close consultation with the irrigation community.

This project continued delivering 77 GL of water recovered under the Connections Project to eligible delivery shareholders in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), in line with recommendations made by the Irrigators’ Share Consultative Committee.

Connections project

Completion of the final water recovery audit for the Connections project also enables irrigators to receive benefits arising from an additional 681.6 ML of long-term water recovery, as announced by the Minister for Water in February 2022.

A project plan has been developed to sell the additional 681.6ML on the open market and distribute the sales revenue to eligible delivery shareholders as a financial benefit.

Socioeconomic impacts of water recovery

Continued to work with the Commonwealth government and regional stakeholders on the understanding and management of socioeconomic impacts of further water recovery under the Basin Plan on communities, including

  • providing advice on Victorian government led projects
  • facilitating the socio-economic assessment
  • community consultation process on proposals to bid for Commonwealth funding
  • developing an evidence-based analysis on the socio-economic impacts of Basin Plan water recovery to inform policy.

Solar Energy Guideline and VPP clause 14.02-3S

Led coordination process a) in relation to the Solar Energy Guideline and VPP clause 14.02-3S – protection of declared irrigation districts. This helps to ensure that the location of large-scale renewable energy facilities/energy transmission infrastructure aligns with government policy on protecting agricultural land serviced by irrigation infrastructure to ensure the future viability of an irrigation district.

Goulburn Murray Resilience Strategy

Actively contributed to the development of the Goulburn Murray Resilience Strategy. Provided state government support for its regionally-led implementation, including through the Agricultural Redevelopment Coordinator project.

Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy

Formulated and facilitated the development of agricultural water-related policy responses and actions which were endorsed for inclusion in the Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy.

Page last updated: 08/09/23