Program overview

The Program has a strong history of reducing adverse impacts of irrigation on the environment and third parties, while improving water use efficiency and best practice land management for environmental and productive outcomes.

The Program is administered by DELWP and is delivered in partnership with Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), extension staff from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) and rural water corporations.

  • Irrigated agriculture in Victoria accounts for 33% of the state’s agricultural output, contributing $4.9 billion to the economy in 2017–18, while using less than 4% of the state's agricultural land and just 2% of the state’s land area. The intensive nature of irrigation has the potential to have significant impacts at the local and catchment scale if left unmanaged.

The program:

  • Develops and implements regional Land and Water Management Plans (LWMPs) in major irrigation regions to reduce the environmental and third-party impacts of irrigation and improve farm water use efficiency;
  • Ensures Victoria complies with salinity impact obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement and the Basin Salinity Management 2030 strategy;
  • Guides new irrigation development to meet sustainability and best practice land management objectives; and
  • Supports implementation of the Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program.

The Victorian Government is investing $50.1 million over 2020-2024 in the program. This is funded through the Environmental Contribution (EC) Tranche 5.

DELWP and delivery partners will update regional Land and Water Management Plans across the state and implement priority activities identified in these plans. In doing so, they will continue to deliver on the overall Program goal of a productive, effective and sustainable irrigation industry supported by improved irrigation infrastructure.

Delivery partners

Mallee Catchment Management Authority

North Central Catchment Management Authority

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority

North East Catchment Management Authority

West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority

Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority

Department for Jobs, Precints and Regions (DJPR)

Regulatory Responsibilities

The Sustainable Irrigation Program operates within Federal and State legislation, policies and strategies, as well as regional plans and strategies.

Schedule B of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement aims to implement the BSM2030 strategy;

The Water Act 1989 and associated Ministerial Policies:

Basin Salinity Management

Salinity remains a significant management focus within the Murray-Darling Basin and poses ongoing environmental, social and economic risks.

Basin Salinity Management

Land And Water Management Plans

The Sustainable Irrigation Program prepares, oversees and implements Land and Water Management Plans in designated irrigation areas. These plans align with catchment management authority’s (CMA) Regional Catchment Strategies.

Land and Water Management Plans (LWMP) provide a framework to improve the efficient use of water and protect the environment and third parties from off-site impacts of irrigation. They are the primary mechanism to protect the beneficial uses of water from irrigation impacts, as prescribed by the State Environmental Protection Policies for Water of Victoria.

Each plan provides a regionally-specific and co-ordinated approach to natural resource management in irrigation areas and guides government investment in improving sustainability outcomes for these areas.

Land and Water Management Plans are developed and implemented with strong community engagement and consultation. This makes sure that the plans have strong stakeholder support and are technically and economically sound.

DELWP is currently reviewing its Guidelines for the development of LWMP in designated irrigation areas, to provide contemporary directions to CMAs as they periodically review or renewing their plans. This will  ensure that regional plans and their actions are relevant to the current policy, and environmental and economic conditions in the region.

Land and Water Management Plans have been prepared by the following CMAs for their irrigation areas:

These plans are expected to be updated over the next two years.

Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program

The Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program (VIDP) seeks to mitigate the risk of salinity, waterlogging and water quality impacts to the environment by removing excess water from irrigated areas. Irrigation drainage (e.g. subsurface drains, primary and community surface water drains, tile drainage, groundwater pumping, Drainage Course Declarations (DCD) and on-farm drainage reuse) is a critical component of sustainable irrigation and delivers several environmental benefits.

Implementation of the VIDP is guided by the Victorian Irrigation Drainage Program Strategic Directions 2021-24

Managing Irrigation Developments

New irrigation developments, or significant redevelopments, in Victoria, are managed through regional Irrigation Development Guidelines (IDGs).

IDGs guide irrigation developments in meeting best practice standards to avoid or minimise the off-site impacts of irrigation water use. IDGs require consideration of natural resource management issues in the catchment, particularly those issues identified in Regional Catchment Strategies, Land and Water Management Plans and other relevant plans.

IDGs provide guidance to both irrigators and government agencies on the process for approvals, matters for consideration and the conditions required for obtaining or modifying a water-use licence or take and use license.

IDGs seek to:

  • Document the approval process for irrigation development applications;
  • Offer a cost-effective way to facilitate developments in a way that avoids or minimises environmental and third-party impacts;
  • Clarify  the process for authorities to meet the water use objectives under the Water Act 1989 when approving  Water Use Licenses;
  • Point to  other environmental, planning and cultural heritage protection procedures and agencies, including Local Government; and
  • Reduce the uncertainty for prospective developers by clarifying standards and expectations.

Advice on IDG that applies to specific regions can be accessed through contacting your local Catchment Management Authority.

On-farm Irrigation Efficiency

The Sustainable Irrigation Program undertakes a range of actions to improve on-farm water use. A number activities are used to support improved irrigation water use efficiency, including:

  • Property planning (including grants for the preparation or update of whole farm plans), and other decision support programs
  • Provision of specialist independent advice to irrigators through the DJPR irrigation extension staff;
  • Grants to enable adoption of improved farm irrigation infrastructure; and
  • Leveraging of Commonwealth and other funding for on-farm upgrades where it is considered there will be net public benefit.

Monitoring trends in land and water use in irrigation

In partnership with DJPR, CMAs and rural water corporations, DELWP is investing in improved monitoring of land and water use efficiency at a regional scale in priority areas.

This originated with a research program led by DJPR Spatial Sciences to benchmark irrigation water use across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

DELWP has extended investment in monitoring of water use and land use change in Victoria’s irrigation areas through the Regional Irrigated Land and Water Use Mapping (RILWUM) program.  This includes the Mallee, the Lake Wellington Catchment in Gippsland and a pilot in south-western Victoria.

The mapping process involves remote and on-ground land use surveys in irrigation areas and the matching of water register data, to determine seasonal water use by water use licences and industry. This data is then used to produce land and water use maps for further analysis and stakeholder engagement.

The monitoring projects provide important data on trends in water use, in the context of land use changes, irrigation modernisation (both on-farm and at the supply scale), and over periods of climate variability. It provides the ability to monitor and report farm water use to drive future improvements in water efficiency.

Page last updated: 30/08/22