Irrigation & Salinity

Irrigation & Salinity

Irrigated horticulture is a major feature of the Nyah to SA Border region of the Victorian Mallee. The application of irrigation water onto horticultural crops can mobilise salts in the soils. Too much water from irrigation going through the soil profile can affect regional groundwater levels. The groundwater that underlies much of the Mallee is saline and, in many cases, saltier than seawater. It is a natural feature of the region that if not managed appropriately can have a devastating impact on agriculture, the environment and Murray River water quality.

Salinity was a known problem in the Murray Darling Basin, but it took severe droughts in the 1960s to motivate landholders, communities and governments to take action. In the Victorian Mallee, when salinity was visibly damaging crops and the environment, it was forecast as an impending crisis. Irrigators, farmers and community members came up with far-reaching programs to manage and restore the landscape known today as the ‘Victorian Mallee Salinity Management Framework’. Their approach recognising that irrigation water leaving the farm was one of the primary contributors of salt to the Murray River and developed a series of salinity management plans in the 1990’s to address the threat.

The Salinity Management Framework developed in the salinity management plans includes a range of measures comprising:

  • salinity zones identifying high and low impact areas across the Murray River irrigation area;
  • cap and trade arrangements which restrict AUL trade into high impact zones;
  • assessment of irrigation development using development guidelines to ensure adoption of irrigation design standards, water efficiency and prevention of environmental impact;
  • levies for irrigation development to offset salinity impacts and encourage development in low impact zones; and
  • irrigation incentives to modernise irrigation practices, reduce salinity and improve water efficiency.

The Mallee CMA is responsible for managing salinity in the region, delivering on the Victoria’s Sustainable Irrigation Program and ensuring compliance with obligations under the Basin Salinity Management 2030 Strategy. The CMA continues to implement the salinity management framework and build on the momentum of earlier salinity management plans through a Victorian Mallee Irrigation Region Land and Water Management Plan.

While the basin salinity management obligations are being met, and the salinity management framework has been very effective in reducing salinity within the Murray River, the threat remains. Highly saline groundwater levels are still above river levels and other low spots in the landscape. This continues to drive groundwater and salt towards the river, floodplains and wetland with the risk of causing ecological impacts and threats to water quality and agricultural productivity.

What are Salinity Impact Charges?

The Salinity impact charges consist of two charges that have been adjusted in accordance with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each year; an ongoing annual charge and a one-off capital charge. The charges are applied to the volume of Annual Use Limit (the maximum amount of water permitted to be applied to a parcel of land in one year) specified on each Water-Use Licence in a declared Salinity Impact Zone.

How have the charges, which have already been collected, been spent?

The charges have been used to mitigate and offset the salinity impact of irrigation development in the Nyah to South Australian Border region on the Murray River, consistent with Victoria’s obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

Examples of investment include:

  • irrigation incentives to assist irrigators to transition to efficient irrigation systems;
  • provision of irrigation management courses to promote irrigation best practice management;
  • ongoing monitoring of surface and groundwater; and,
  • research and investigation to improve understanding of salinity impacts such as the Mallee Crop Report.

What are the current salinity impact charges?

Salinity impact charges are set out in the Ministerial Determination of Salinity Impact Zones and Salinity impact charges.

While any new irrigation development licenced from 1 July 2022/23 will pay the capital charges of;