Irrigation in Australia
The development of water resources in Australia has been based on a number of objectives:
- the full utilisation of available natural resources;
- transport and shipping;
- increasing food production;
- promoting rural development;
- hydro-electric power generation;
- flood control; and
- recreational activities.
During the second half of the 19th Century, a number of factors including an expanding population, closer settlement, and severe droughts, led to a heightened interest in the potential of irrigation and in spectacular projects involving large storage reservoirs and extensive water distribution systems. Governments became heavily involved, and for many years the extension of irrigated land was seen to be of national importance.
In the first half of the 20th Century, irrigation was also seen as a means of increasing the intensity of farming and thus allowing schemes for the settlement of returned soldiers from the First and Second World Wars which were financed by both the Commonwealth and the States (Hallows, P.J & Thompson, D.G., The History of Irrigation in Australia, p.7).
The development of irrigated agriculture in Australia has coincided with the development of regional Australia, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Irrigation has delivered substantial benefits to regional communities and the nation as a whole. In 2002, irrigated agricultural production in Australia was valued at $11.4 billion with NSW contributing approximately $2.9 billion of the total. According to the ABS, irrigated agriculture uses just 1.5% of agricultural land in NSW but accounts for nearly 35% of production.
The issues associated with the use of water resources are not static because the needs and objectives of society evolve over time.
In the early 1990's, concerns grew amongst Governments, water users and the broader community that our water resources were under increasing pressure and that changes were needed. A number of steps have been taken since that time to alleviate the pressure on the river systems (including the introduction of the Murray-Darling Basin Cap to limit growth in water use, environmental flow rules and new water sharing arrangements). However, there is still work to be done to provide equitable solutions that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the many dependent communities - both ecological and human.