The Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) has requested two new environmental entitlements (Goulburn System – Mitigation Water Environmental Entitlement 2023 and Murray System – Mitigation Water Environmental Entitlement 2023) under section 48C of the Water Act 1989.

These new environmental entitlements will provide the VEWH an enduring right to water recovered by the Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) Connections Project, to mitigate the impact from the Project to local sites with high environmental value. In addition, these entitlements will repeal existing temporary environmental entitlements, effective 20 June 2024 when they will no longer be required.

The VEWH’s request is accompanied by an application from GMW to amend GMW bulk entitlements in the Goulburn and Murray systems to reduce losses in line with water recovery works in order to support the issue of the new entitlements. For more information, visit Goulburn-Murray Water Connections Project Mitigation Bulk Entitlement Amendments

Request overview

The request from the VEWH for mitigation water environmental entitlements supports the GMW Connections Project to meet state and federal environmental approvals. The Project set aside 3,377.3 megalitres (ML) long-term annual average yield (LTAAY) of water savings to mitigate the impact of irrigation modernisation works on sites with high environmental value. The new entitlements specify that the water can only be used at sites where an Environmental Watering Plan (prepared for the GMW Connections Project) identified that mitigation water was needed. The new entitlements outline, among other things, that the VEWH and GMW must prepare operating arrangements within a year, and that there can be no fees or charges associated with holding or using this entitlement, consistent with the lack of financial obligations that existed prior to delivery of the Connections Project.

More information about the application for an amendment

Q. What is an environmental entitlement?

An environmental entitlement is an entitlement held by the VEWH to take, apply or store water up to a maximum volume allocated under section 48B of the Water Act 1989 subject to certain conditions and obligations.

Environmental entitlements can be a combination of water in storage, minimum flow levels and protection of the flows remaining in the river after the other demands have been met (‘above cap’ flows). Environmental entitlements make it possible to actively manage water to meet specific environmental needs such as fish spawning triggers or maintaining critical habitats during drought.

Q. What is the GMW Connections Project?

The GMW Connections Project is Australia’s largest irrigation modernisation project and the most significant infrastructure upgrade in northern Victoria’s 100-year history. The Victorian and Australian governments funded the Connections Project to the tune of $2 billion.

The Connections Project has delivered long-term 433 gigalitres (GL) of water recovery for farms in Northern Victoria, the Melbourne water retailers, the environment and Traditional Owners. This water recovery is a key part of Victoria’s contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, contributing 10 percent (279 GL LTAAY water savings) of the total water recovery required.

Before the Connections Project started, irrigation infrastructure in the region lost around 900 GL each year from leakage, seepage, evaporation and poor measurement

Q. What has the Victorian Environmental Water Holder requested?

The VEWH submitted a request to the Minister for Water, under section 48C of the Act, for environmental entitlements for mitigation water that the Connections Project set aside to meet state and federal environmental approvals. The proposed environmental entitlements will provide the VEWH with ongoing access to 3,377.3 ML LTAAY to be used at sites where the GMW Connections Project identified mitigation water was required. These entitlements will also repeal, effective 20 June 2024, the existing Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) temporary entitlements as they will no longer be required.

Q. Why did the GMW Connections Project need to provide mitigation water to the environment?

Sometimes water in irrigation channels is discharged (‘outfalls') into wetlands and rivers and provides an important environmental benefit. Improving the efficiency of the irrigation systems can reduce these ‘losses’. To sustain these environmental benefits and meet the state and federal environmental approvals, the project needed to show how it would mitigate the impact of the rollout of the Connections Project on local sites with high environmental value.

The Connections Project prepared the Water Change Management Framework to describe how it would assess and mitigate the impacts and Environmental Watering Plans to determine the volume of water it needed to set aside at each site with high environmental values.

The Connections Project set aside mitigation water before it calculated its water recovery achievements. For further information on the GMW Connections Project, please refer to Connections Project - Goulburn Murray Water (

Q. How will the water be used?

The water will be used at sites where the GMW Connections Project identified a need to mitigate impacts. The water will be used to meet ecological and hydrological values as identified in Environmental Watering Plans, Environmental Water Management Plans, and Operational Environmental Management Plans.

Q. Will the water be used at all mitigation water sites every year?

Within the ten mitigation water sites, the VEWH has the option to use the water where it will get the best outcome for the environment, with the exception of Little Lake Boort, where the mitigation water cannot be used (see below). The water can be used or carried-over depending on the local needs, but it cannot be traded or used at non-mitigation water sites. The VEWH will work with the relevant Catchment Management Authorities to plan how the water is used each season. Each year Catchment Management Authorities prepare Seasonal Watering Proposals. These are informed by community consultation, including consultation with local Traditional Owner groups, and consider local conditions. These proposals inform the Seasonal Watering Plan prepared by the VEWH each year. To ensure the water is used to get the most benefit, the VEWH takes advice from the Catchment Management Authorities and uses their local knowledge to inform its decision on which mitigation water sites to apply water to.

Q. Why can’t the water be used at Little Lake Boort?

Little Lake Boort was identified as requiring mitigation water based on it being managed for environmental benefits. However the site is currently not being managed for environmental benefit, rather it is being managed for recreational benefit, meaning it does not fit the criteria for receiving mitigation water. Rather than absorb that water recovery into the Connections Project, the Project agreed that it could be used at other mitigation water sites. This means that if there is a change in the management objectives of Little Lake Boort, then the mitigation water would be available for use. The entitlements are written to exclude use at Little Lake Boort until such a time that the North Central Catchment Management Authority prepare an Environmental Water Management Plan for the site.

Q. How is water sourced to meet the new water entitlements?

The GMW Connections Project was contracted to deliver a minimum of 429 GL LTAAY. The Project was highly successful, delivering 433 GL LTAAY.

The water recovery volume being issued to the VEWH as mitigation water is accounted for before project achievements are calculated. That is, water savings are the total (gross) volumes saved less the volume of water required to ensure no net impacts on sites of high environmental value due to the project (mitigation water).

To ensure the issue of new mitigation water environmental entitlements does not have an impact on entitlements in the Goulburn or Murray systems, GMW has applied for complementary amendments to its loss provisions in line with audited works completed.

For further information on the GMW Connections Project, please refer to Connections Project - Goulburn Murray Water (

Q. What is the Water Saving Protocol and how is it used to calculate water recovery?

All water savings from major irrigation modernisation projects in Victoria, including the GMW Connections Project, must be estimated and audited in accordance with the Water Savings Protocol. The Water Savings Protocol is the technical manual for how to estimate water savings. It reflects current best practice for the estimation of water savings and is updated periodically to reflect improvements in technology and any changes in the understanding of irrigation system losses. It also sets out roles and responsibilities and specifies the audit process.

Estimating water recovery using the methods in the Water Savings Protocol ensures that the estimate is calculated in a consistent and transparent manner using the most current scientific information. This means it can be used as evidence to issue water recovery as entitlements.

The audit process requires an independent auditor to verify that the water savings estimates have been estimated consistent with the methods described in the Water Savings Protocol. The audit process provides confidence that the water savings are being estimated correctly.

The 2020-21 water recovery audit of the GMW Connections Project can be viewed here: Independent Audit of Water Recovery – GMW Connections Project

Q. How can you issue new entitlements without impacting other entitlements?

New water entitlements in the Goulburn and Murray declared systems can only be issued where the new entitlement is supported by audited water savings, and the request is accompanied by a supporting application to reduce the loss provisions in GMW’s Goulburn and Murray bulk entitlements. GMW has made a supporting application.

Next steps

The Minister for Water will consider the request from the VEWH, upholding the requirements of the Water Act 1989. Subject to the Minister for Water’s approval, the environmental entitlements will come into effect when published in the Victoria Government Gazette.

More information and submissions

For more information on the applications call 136 186 or email

The Minister will consider any comments received from the public on the application. Written comments can be emailed to or mailed to:

Executive Director, Water Resources Strategy
Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action
PO Box 500
East Melbourne VIC 3002

Page last updated: 01/05/23