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Macalister Irrigation District

Our History

These images cover the construction and early operation of Glenmaggie Weir and the first channels to deliver irrigation to the Macalister Irrigation District. Many interested members of the public visited the construction sites.


From the earliest days of white settlement after 1839, it was realised the region offered some of Australia’s most valuable grazing land. But the early settlers were at the mercy of rivers that dried up one year and flooded the next, and rainfall that came – or failed to come – in the most unpredictable way.

The first significant irrigation projects in Victoria began in the north west of the state around the turn of the century as a means of regulating the water supply. In the Macalister region, however, the first steps towards providing water for irrigation were taken in 1912 when the Water Commission became responsible for “closer settlement” – the name given to the process of encouraging people to relocate to and open up rural Victoria.

The Commission was asked by the Department of Agriculture to investigate providing temporary works to supply water to the sugar beet areas of Boisdale. Surveys were also made in that year to enable estimates to be prepared for a scheme to serve 2,400 hectares at Kilmany Park near Sale. A study of possible storage sites on one of the major rivers was initiated in 1914 following the disastrous drought of that year. The First World War intervened, however, and it was not until 1920 that a dam was begun on the Macalister River near the junction of Bradleys Creek, to be known as the Glenmaggie Dam. The Macalister was selected because it has a much larger average annual flow than the nearby Avon River.In the meantime, surveys were made to determine the feasibility of an irrigation scheme in the Maffra district to aid the sugar beet industry.

In 1919, Maffra landholders supported a proposal to supply water to irrigate an area of 9,000 hectares on the Avon flats, including Boisdale and the Newry and Maffra flats on the northern side of the Macalister River. This resulted in first priority being given to the construction in 1924 of the Main Northern Channel to supply the Boisdale and Newry River flats. A feature of that channel was its location in hill country on the northern fringe of the district. Very careful attention had to be given to the earthworks and the many water courses that had to be crossed with siphons (water carrying tunnels). By 1926, the Glenmaggie Dam was sufficiently advanced for water to be supplied to 3,600 hectares in Boisdale, Airly, Cobains and other estates near Sale. The Maffra and Sale Irrigation and Water Supply Districts, which then totalled 14,000 hectares, were constituted in 1927. At this time, proposals to supply Tinamba and the towns of Sale, Maffra and Heyfield were also being considered.

With the completion of the Glenmaggie Dam to crest level in 1929, the area under irrigation was progressively extended. To overcome problems of drainage, the Boisdale and Nuntin flats were drained to Nuntin Creek and the Sale and Bundalaguah areas to Lake Wellington . The Main Nuntin and Airly-Nuntin Drains were completed in 1930 and Myrtlebank Drain in 1931. By 1933 the area under irrigation was approximately 7,400 hectares, served by 310 kilometres of channels and 90 kilometres of drains.

The Maffra and Sale Districts were united to form the Maffra-Sale Irrigation District in 1935. After irrigation began, the area sown with sugar beet increased from 820 hectares in 1927 to 1,600 hectares in 1940. The amount of beet that was treated rose from around 20,000 tonnes per annum to over 40,000 tonnes in 1940. In the early 1940s however, butterfat prices began to increase and dairy farming became more profitable. The production of sugar beet declined and eventually ceased altogether in 1945, following which the processing factory was removed.

In 1942 a report was prepared for a Parliamentary Public Works committee on the utilisation of the waters of the Thomson River and their potential for irrigation of 24,000 hectares of land in the Nambrok and Denison areas, between the Thomson and Latrobe Rivers. These works were undertaken as part of the Central Gippsland Project, commenced in 1952 and completed in 1958. The Maffra-Sale Irrigation District was also extended in 1952 to include the Nuntin, Clydebank and West Boisdale areas, but it had become evident that the storage capacity of Lake Glenmaggie would be inadequate to meet both existing commitments and the projected requirements of the new Nambrok-Denison Scheme. Investigations were therefore made into the construction of crest gates on the Glenmaggie Dam and of a weir on the Macalister River at Maffra.

This weir, the Maffra Weir, was a vertical lift gated structure completed in 1954. It enabled flows from the Macalister River to be diverted into the Main Eastern Channel (constructed in 1958) to join with the Main Sale and Main Airly channels. These works removed the overloading on the Main Northern System by supplying the Airly, Sale and The Heart areas.

Lake Glenmaggie was enlarged from 130,800 megalitres to 190,410 megalitres by the addition of crest gates completed in 1957. This was followed by construction of the Cowwarr Weir on the Thomson River in 1959, to divert water to the Central Gippsland Irrigation Area along the Cowwarr Channel to supplement water from Lake Glenmaggie. The weir also maintains a supply of water in the old course of the Thomson River after a permanent breakaway course – Rainbow Creek – was formed during a severe flood in 1956.

In 1959, the Maffra-Sale and Central Gippsland Irrigation Districts were amalgamated to form the Macalister Irrigation District as it now exists, and the two former districts became irrigation areas within the district.

To distribute irrigation water from Lake Glenmaggie three main channels have been built – the Main Northern, the Main Southern and the Main Eastern. Construction began on the Main Northern Channel in the 1920s; the first delivery of water was made in 1925 to the Boisdale area, and within a few years the northern channel system had been extended to near Sale.

These years also saw the construction of the Main Southern Channel, which irrigates the area north of Tinamba. In 1939, it was extended to the Riverslea area and in 1952 was taken under the Thomson River via a 1,800 mm diameter pipe 1.3 km long, to the Nambrok-Denison area and to the east of Heyfield. Under a Soldier Settlement Scheme, 131 farms were laid out around Nambrok. Water was first taken there from Glenmaggie in 1952.

Eight years later, the Cowwarr Weir was constructed on the Thomson River six miles west of Heyfield, together with the Cowwarr Channel which augments irrigation supplies to the Nambrok Denison area when there are sufficient flows in the Thomson River. Today the Macalister Irrigation District has 660 kilometers of supply channels and 490 kilometers of drainage channels.

The Main Eastern Channel was built in 1958, following the construction of Maffra Weir on the Macalister River. This channel takes water from the weir to irrigators between Maffra and Sale.

Like Bacchus Marsh and Werribee Irrigation Districts, the MID is a gravity irrigation district and relies on upstream heads of water to move supply through the channels and pipes to the customer.

Water is ordered by customers through Southern Rural Water’s Waterline ordering system and delivered by our Water Services Officers through a complex series of checks, regulators and valves. This brings the water to the “farm gate”, where it is measured by a Dethridge wheel or Flume Gate on open channels or a standard flow meter on pipelines. From here it is directed by the customer to the on-farm irrigation systems.

Prices for water in the Macalister Irrigation District are determined by the Essential Services Commission following recommendation by the Southern Rural Water Board. This recommendation is made following consultation with the Macalister Customer Consultative Committee, which is made up of irrigators from within the district.

The irrigation season runs from 15 August to 15 May, although if supply and weather conditions are favourable, early starts and extensions beyond the scheduled close down are arranged.

How to order water
Irrigation water can be ordered over the phone or online using Waterline, SRW’s Water Order System.
Customers must have a valid user number and PIN number to access these services.

Water orders must be placed three days in advance, to allow for orders to be planned and delivered efficiently. Customers under the Demand Management System (DMS) in the MID can place orders with shorter notice.

What is Waterline?
Waterline is our Water Ordering System for customers.

Through Waterline, customers are able to:

  • Place irrigation orders.
  • Enter meter readings (online only)
  • Communicate with planners.
  • Access water usage details.

Ordering water online
Go to and follow the instructions below:

  1. Type in your User Number and PIN Number
  2. Select your required option from the Orders main menu drop down list
  3. Enter in the details as required
  4. When placing repeating orders, only one panel of duration and flow rate needs to be filled in as data is contained in each repeat
  5. Before lodging your order, make sure that dates and times are correct
  6. You may move between the various pages by selecting from the main menu, or use the back and forward arrow buttons on your browser.

When you have finished lodging your order or completed your enquiries, select log off from the top right of the screen.

Ordering water by phone
Waterline can be accessed by dialling 1300 360 117.

  • Key in your User Number then press “#”
  • Key in your PIN Number then press “#”
  • Select from the following functions:

1# To place a regular order
2# To find out start times
3# To speak to a planner
4# To leave a message for a planner
5# To use special functions (change PIN; enter special orders; find out entitlement details)
6# To change lodged DMS orders (cancel; change start/finish or flow rate; emergency stop)
9# To speak to an operator
0# To end the call.

Channel emptying for end of season
At the end of the irrigation season all channels in the Macalister Irrigation District are drained to allow for essential winter maintenance works, MID2030 project works and carp removal to be completed.
Customers that require water during the winter period from 15 may until 15 August will need to arrange alternate stock and domestic supply.
Private works
If you want to do works around (near, on or over) infrastructure controlled by Southern Rural Water – including open channels, pipelines and drains – you will need a licence to construct and use private works.

These structures can include:

  • Occupational crossings
  • Siphons
  • New or replacement outlets
  • Power or water lines
  • Pivot crossings
  • Or any other structures

How do I apply for a licence?

  • Contact our Assets Officer to discuss your plan. This will include an on-site meeting.
  • Submit an application form: Request for the Approval of Private Works (no payment is needed up front)
  • If approved, we will send you a written agreement with a request for fees for you to sign and send back with payment
  • Once we have received this and approved the agreement, works can start
  • During the project, our Assets Officer will inspect regularly to check progress and that you are complying with specifications.

Security deposit

Part of the fee is a security deposit, which we will refund when the project is completed to the required standard and specifications.


Please note that failure to comply with our processes and requirements is a breach of Section 148 of the Water Act 1989, and could result in prosecution.

Treating weeds in irrigation channels in the MID
Weeds block the flow of water in our irrigation channels. This prevents us from giving good service to our customers. Weeds need to be removed by machines or treated with herbicide.

At times, we treat weeds that float or grow under water with a herbicide. This is the best way for us to prevent weeds causing water delivery problems. The herbicide we use is called Acrolein.

For more information see our fact sheet “Treating submerged weeds in the irrigation channels MID”

Fees - Macalister Irrigation District

Water share fees

High Reliability $13.60
This is an annual fee for your high-reliability water shares. These fees reflect the costs of operating, maintaining and renewing the reservoirs in which your water shares are harvested and stored.

Low Reliability $6.80
This is an annual fee for your low-reliability water shares. These fees reflect the costs of operating, maintaining and renewing the reservoirs in which your water shares are harvested and stored.

Service point fee  

Infrastructure Fee $5,485
This fee reflects the costs of operating, maintaining, renewing and upgrading the delivery systems – channels, pipelines and regulators – that we use to distribute your water. This fee does not apply to river diverters who hold extraction shares (not delivery shares).

Standard $216.00
This fee applies to each service point associated with your delivery share, and reflect the costs of operating and maintaining your outlet.  Where outlets are shared by more than one delivery share, the charge is calculated at 80% of the listed fee.

Metered Pump $113.00
This fee applies to each service point associated with your extraction share, and reflect the costs of maintaining your meter.  Where outlets are shared by more than one delivery share, the charge is calculated at 80% of the listed fee.

Unmetered $50.50  Where outlets are shared by more than one delivery share, the charge is calculated at 80% of the listed fee.

Water Usage Standard $9.95
Water usage charges are billed in August for each ML of water delivered during the irrigation season – regardless of whether that water was allocated against high or low reliability water shares, or against spill entitlement. This is a variable charge calculated on the amount of water you use each season.

Water Usage River $9.95
Water usage charges are billed in August for each ML of water delivered during the irrigation season – regardless of whether that water was allocated against high or low reliability water shares, or against spill entitlement. This is a variable charge calculated on the amount of water you use each season.

Casual Usage $55.80
The casual use fee may be charges where usage exceeds 270 times your delivery share rate (expressed in ML/per day) – or where no delivery share is held. Casual use charges will also incur the $9.95 standard fee for every ML used as well as the $53.90 casual use charge. Casual use charges are not applicable to extraction shares.


Drainage Diversion $20.00
This fee is for irrigators who hold agreements to divert water from the irrigation drainage system. This is ‘opportunistic’ access to water when available in the drainage system, and no entitlement to water is held. The fee will be charged on the basis of $ per ML outlined in your Drainage Diversion Agreement.

Application forms

Application Forms - Victorian Water Register

Authorisation to Order and Use Water

Request for a Land and Water Transfer Application - Form 55

Request for Abandonment of a Metered Outlet

Request for approval of private works

Drainage diversion agreements and private works

For a new drainage diversion agreement to transfer or renew you existing one contact us.

Drillers licence

2021-22 Drillers Licensing Book

Information statements

Information Statements are available by applying online at the Landata website: or by using our application form below.

Information Statement Application  Fee $116.00

Other applications

Direct debit

Change of address

Please Note: We are unable to change your address in any of our systems unless this form has been completed, signed and returned to Southern Rural Water.

Facts and Figures

The Macalister Irrigation District (MID) is the largest irrigation district in Southern Victoria, situated around Maffra in central Gippsland. The MID sources its water from the Macalister River, via Lake Glenmaggie, and from the Thomson River, via Cowwarr Weir.

The region has productive soils, a strong dairy sector, and developing vegetable and cropping industries. Approximately 33,500 ha is currently used for irrigation and of this, 90% is under pasture.

The irrigation season runs from 15 August to 15 May.


Total area of the district: 54,753 ha
Total area under irrigation: 33,500 ha

No of customers (with Allocation Bank Accounts ABAs): 1,167
No of service point operators: 695

Water entitlements

Total of high reliability water shares: 146,367 ML

Customers with 2.2 ML or < 220
Customers with 2.3 ML to 9.9 ML 91
Customers with 10 ML to 49.9 ML 227
Customers with 50 ML to 99.9 ML 201
Customers with 100 ML to 199.9 ML 212
Customers with 200 ML to 299.9 ML 91
Customers with 300 ML to 499.9 ML 70
Customers with 500 ML or > 55

Nambrok: 46,000 ML (37% of district)
Tinamba: 23,000 ML (19% of district)
Northern: 31,000 ML (25% of district)
Eastern: 23,000 ML (19% of district)
Thomson River and Rainbow Creek: 18,000 ML (outside of MID)
Macalister River: 4,000 ML (outside of MID)
Cowwarr Channel: 1,000 ML (outside of MID)

No of outlets: 2,160 approx.
Total length of channels: 592 km
Total length of pipes: 39 km
Total length of drains: 411 km


The largest irrigation area south of the Great Dividing Range, the Macalister Irrigation District (MID) is located in central Gippsland, south-east of Melbourne, and takes its name from the Macalister River, the main source of the district’s irrigation water.

The MID extends around the river for 53,000 ha from Lake Glenmaggie to near Sale. Approximately 33,500 ha is currently used for irrigation, and of this 90% is under pasture.

The main town in the MID and its business heart is Maffra, where Southern Rural Water has its head office and where Saputo processes much of the milk produced by the MID’s dairy farmers.

Please click on the map to enlarge 

Southern Rural Water acknowledges and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and waters on which we work and live, and we respect their deep and ongoing connection to Country. For more about the First Nations peoples on whose Country we work, click here.