Coming out of a La Nina weather pattern, it’s easy to forget that water is a finite resource as it’s been relatively plentiful over the last few years. However, long-term predictions point towards a drying climate and less reliable rainfall, and population growth will put further pressure on water supplies. That is why we need to manage it strategically.
Research shows stream flows (water that flows into river and refills water storages) in Victoria have decreased by up to 21 per cent since 1975. As our population swells to 10 million over the next 30 years, this decline is predicted to continue and could seriously impact many already stressed waterways.
The Victorian Government is responsible for developing strategies to help secure our water future and we work together to deliver on them. There are three regional Sustainable Water Strategies for Victoria. These set the policy directions and outline actions for securing long-term water supplies to protect the jobs, farms, ecosystems, communities, and Traditional Owners that rely on them.
These strategies propose that continued water efficiency in farms, businesses and homes, improving waterways, and reducing our reliance on river water will help us tackle the challenge of meeting our future water needs. And we’re already working with government and other partners on strategic projects that will secure the reliability of future water supply for our farmers in Werribee and Gippsland.
As one of Victoria’s fastest developing areas, urban growth in the Werribee catchment will produce increased volumes of recycled water and stormwater that will need to be stored and re-used to properly manage resources in the region. The Werribee Reconfiguration Project has been identified in the Victorian Government’s Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy as the initiative to investigate how we can do this.
We know our customers want to improve the quality of irrigation water, and the reliability of supply in the Werribee area. And we also know we need to improve the environmental and cultural values of the Werribee River system. So, a core focus of the Werribee Reconfiguration Project is to investigate the opportunity for growers to exchange their river entitlements for a more reliable, better quality recycled water supply from a new treatment plant.
We are working with Melbourne Water and the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Change, who are the lead agency, on the reconfiguration project. It’s in the very early stages and we’re recruiting a customer reference group to support the feasibility phase and business case development. There will be no changes to water entitlements without the support of customers.
The customer reference group will meet regularly in the first half of 2024 and will help us understand customers’ needs and the lasting improvements to reliability, security and quality of irrigation supply they require. It’s an exciting project that could deliver real benefits to our customers, the environment and our communities.
In Gippsland, Southern Rural Water, and the Victorian and Commonwealth governments committed to a $160 million program of modernisation works across the Macalister Irrigation District over the past decade.
Works on the final phase of modernisation will be complete by 2024. With this, an opportunity exists to maximise the benefits of this once-in-a generation investment to ensure a thriving region long into the future.
Macalister Fresh will be the project that enables us to develop a vision for the Macalister Irrigation Area and fully realise opportunities and drive investment into the Gippsland region. Identifying more water savings, delivering best practice irrigation, finding innovative solutions to our future challenges, and finding great partners to work with will be key priorities of the Macalister Fresh project.
Work has already begun on the Macalister Fresh project that will be delivered over 18 months in four phases.
Phase one involves collaborating and co-designing a vision for the region with customers and our key partners.
We hosted a workshop in Maffra on Thursday 30 November with customers and leaders from industry, government, and the community that provided great insights on unlocking more regional economic, cultural and environmental benefits. We’ll also be releasing an online survey for you to share your ideas. These conversations will help us develop a vision that considers collective priorities and helps us make decisions in line with what we all want to achieve.
Phases two and three of the project will involve designing principles for use and distribution of water savings, decision making frameworks, and project prioritisation tools to help develop and refine several emerging project opportunities in collaboration with key partners and customers.
Phase four of the Macalister Fresh project will deliver an investment prospectus that will identify the value of reliable and secure rural water management in Gippsland, and investment opportunities.
Meeting our future water needs is challenging. However, we’re confident by partnering with the right people, embracing technology, and making smart, evidence-based decisions we can deliver long-term sustainable water for all users.