The vision began as a dream in 1902 after drought devastated the livelihood of pioneers settled around the Murrumbidgee River. Since then the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area has become a flourishing tribute to the vision of a few far sighted pioneers.
Harnessing water to irrigate the ground would ultimately prove water to be more valuable than gold, but it was not without skeptics! The natural landscape is semi arid - temperatures soar to 45 degrees Celsius in summer and the average annual rainfall is 400 mm.
On July 13, 1912 the irrigation scheme was opened bringing water to the area from storage dams via an integrated system of rivers and man made channels, using gravity as the means to manage water flow.
The early stages of development were fraught with problems. Finding suitable horticulture and general agriculture crops that were both marketable and profitable resulted in much heartache. Farm size was under constant negotiation with authorities. Watering methods were experimental and many processes trialed. Water tables, salt, soil infertility and plant disease constantly threatened production. The system was vigorously criticised as a "huge sink for public money".
Today, irrigation has created an oasis. Horticulture crops are responsible for some of Australia's major export markets; rice has carved a place in our country's history and economic future; the wealth of the natural resources of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area supports communities of over 35,000 people. Throughout the years the investment of public money has been repaid many times over. In 1999, the irrigation system devolved from Government ownership, and is now owned and controlled by those who use the water.
"Leading the water industry in the successful integration of sustainable irrigated agriculture and natural resource management."
Murrumbidgee Irrigation provides water effectively and efficiently to irrigation customers. The role includes water management and pricing, infrastructure maintenance and development as well as environmental stewardship.
Company shares are held by customers and distributed on the basis of one share for every Megalitre of water entitlement. Shareholders have the right to attend member meetings, vote at those meetings and participate in the election of directors.
No dividend can be paid on shares to members.
Shares are divided into three classes: Class A voting - Horticulture over 4 hectares; Class B voting - Large Area and Stock and Domestic/Rural Household over 4 hectares; Class C non voting - others.
The Board consists of eight directors. Four Member Directors - two Large Area and two Horticulture, plus one Community, one Staff and two Independent Directors. The Chairman is elected by the Member Directors. Each Member Director has a four year term with a maximum of eight years while the term of Non Member Directors is two years with a maximum of six years.
Murrumbidgee Irrigation operates under specific legislation and three licences.
The Irrigation Corporations Act 1994 Operating Licence authorises Murrumbidgee Irrigation to operate and maintain commercially viable systems. The Water Management Works Licence is also issued under the Irrigation Corporations Act 1994 and authorises the use by Murrumbidgee Irrigation of water supply works, drainage works, flood control works and to take water on behalf of customers. The Pollution Control Licence is issued by the Environmental Protection Authority and enables the business to undertake its activities within certain prescribed environmental guidelines.
Murrumbidgee Irrigation maintains offices in Leeton and Griffith employing in excess of 200 staff.
The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is located in southern central NSW covering approximately 3,624 square kilometres.
The topography is generally that of flat open plains at an elevation of 100-135 m above sea level. The natural drainage of the area is by Mirrool Creek, which discharges into Barren Box Swamp.
The system begins with two major storage dams: Burrinjuck and Blowering. Work on Burrinjuck Dam began in 1907 and provided irrigation water for the MIA in 1912. Burrinjuck has been enlarged twice since then, and now has a total capacity of 1,026,000 Megalitres. In 1968 Blowering Dam was built on the Tumut River with a capacity of 1,628,000 Megalitres and forms part of the Snowy Hydro-Electricity Scheme. Their combined storage is 2,654,000 Megalitres. It is the water from these reservoirs that supply the irrigation system of the MIA.
State Water is the river operating division of the Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC) that manages the release of water into the rivers. Operating bodies with a licence to draw water form the river, place bulk orders for water with State Water. After considering user requirements, river health and stock and domestic supplies, water is released from the catchment dams into the river. Availability of water is dependent on the storage levels of the dam.
Water for the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is diverted from the Murrumbidgee River at Berembed Weir and further downstream at Gogeldrie Weir.
From Berembed Weir water moves into Bundidgery storage which is the start of the system owned and maintained by Murrumbidgee Irrigation.
The next significant point in the scheme is the Yanco regulator. This is a major system split where the Gogeldrie Branch Canal diverts off the Main Canal. The Main Canal feeds the supply channels that bring water to the farm gate. Water is measured onto properties and irrigators pay for the water they use.
From Gogeldrie Weir water is directed to the Sturt Canal and supplies farms on the western side of the MIA.
Drainage water (via Mirrool Creek) flows towards Barren Box Swamp. Water from Barren Box Swamp is recycled into the Wah Wah irrigation supply system. This process is becoming more efficient in terms of water use efficiency and water quality.
Barren Box Swamp supplies water to irrigation districts in Benerembah, Tabbita and Wah Wah. Local Governments are also customers within the system. Water from the main canal is filtered and treated for reticulation to urban residents.
Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and Districts is the largest licence that draws water from the Murrumbidgee River. The adjacent Coleambally Irrigation scheme is the second largest. Hay Weir and Maude Weir supply water to irrigation districts and a number of individual irrigators have licences to draw water directly from the River.
The Murrumbidgee River joins the Murray River near Balranald. The Darling River enters the Murray River further downstream, at Wentworth, before crossing the South Australian border where it flows into the ocean at Coorong.
Most MIA farms were initially designed for dairy and horticultural production, but there was little initial success in production or marketing. In 1924 rice was successfully grown and has changed the landscape and wealth of the region.
Large Area farmers grow one of, or a combination of rice, corn, wheat and vegetables, prime lamb, wool and beef cattle. The size of their properties range from 200 hectares to 320 hectares. Approximately 55% of large area water is used for rice.
Two of the large area properties are intensive beef feedlots. Rockdale, near Yanco has a 53,000 head cattle feedlot and an abattoir processing mainly for the Japanese market. Australian Meat Holding (AMH) operates the Prime City Feedlot at Tabbita, west of Griffith which carries 33,000 head of cattle.
Riverina Stockfeeds is not a big water user, but is a major consumer of local produce as it purchases hay to compress and export to dairies in Japan, as well as grain and fodder for use at Rockdale Beef.
Bartter Enterprises, who produce Steggles chickens and turkeys, is one of Australia's largest poultry producers and processors. They own a number of farms and produce approximately 28,000,000 chickens a year in the Griffith district.The chickens are processed through their own processing plant.
Bartter and Rockdale each purchase more than 100,000 tonnes of grain each year as well as growing some of their own requirements.
AJ Bush and the Codemo family also operate sheep and cattle abattoirs.
Horticulturists grow one or a combination of permanent crops that may include winegrapes, oranges, lemons, peaches, apricots, grapefruit, cherries, prunes and plums. Their average farm size is 16 to 20 hectares.
The MIA produces almost 20% of the total Australian winegrape production and 70% of the NSW production.
90% of the NSW citrus crop is produced in the MIA which comprises 35% of the Australian crop. Approximately 70% of the Valencia crop and 25% of the Navel crop becomes fresh orange juice, with the remainder sold as fresh oranges.
The area is a major producer of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots. Kooba Station near Darlington Point is the largest single corn producer in Australia.
The gross value of farm production in the MIA is estimated at about $700 million, and average gross farm income about $75 million per year. The non-farm Australian community uses MIA products to earn additional income of about $225 million per year. The MIA therefore indirectly helps to provide employment for over 5,000 Australians, and about $70 million per year to community welfare via tax payments.
The natural environment has been modified by pastoral and agricultural development, as well as urban and rural residential settlement. Land clearing for cropping and grazing has reduced the suitability of habitats for some native dryland birds. However the wetter environment has provided a habitat for a number of endangered waterbirds and migratory species.
Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps have been recognised by the World Wetland Association as having national and international importance because of the number of some species of migratory birds from the Northern Hemisphere that are found there.
Cooparra National Park and Nature Reserve, Goonawarra Nature Reserve as well as the MIA forests, Binya, Tabbita, Booligal and Quandong State Forests adjoin the MIA. A range of natural vegetation is supported including: red gum, river oak, black and white cypress pine, black box and mallee gum.
Murrumbidgee Irrigation is the implementing body for MIA EnviroWise - a community developed plan to improve the integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. The program is concerned with ensuring the environmental and economic sustainability of the region.
MIA EnviroWise promote water use efficiency programs designed to more accurately measure water supplied to crops and decrease the amount of water entering the underground system. Using water more efficiently means irrigators have water available for more cropping, and the environment benefits through decreased impacts from higher watertables.
The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is one part of a much larger network using the river system. The health of the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers is of paramount importance to all Australians. Murrumbidgee Irrigation is dedicated to improving and maintaining the health of our rivers. MIA EnviroWise programs target water quality and introduce initiatives that will improve the quality of water returned to the river.
MIA EnviroWise Incentive Programs give farmers an opportunity to access a range of financial and other incentives for implementing improvements to their on-farm works. Efficiencies that have been implemented in the MIA include conversion to drip irrigation systems, soil moisture monitoring systems and soil suitability tests.
The MIA boasts internationally recognised wetlands and a diverse range of plant and animal species. MIA EnviroWise monitors biodiversity as well as initiating tree planting programs and managing the wetlands and remnant vegetation.
The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area was inhabited by the Wiradjuri People prior to European settlement during the 1830s and 1840s. The Murrumbidgee River provided a constant source of food supplying yabbies, fish and water fowl as well as edible aquatic plants. By the turn of the century the traditional Wiradjuri lifestyle began to change as Aborigines were drawn to settlements. <>A number of heritage sites have been identified in the region including: Koonadan, Scenic Hill, McPhersons Range, Three Ways, Frogs Hollow Marsh and areas along Mirrool Creek.
Today the MIA is an exotic cultural mix enjoying a lifestyle enabled by the success of sustainable irrigation agriculture. Our future depends on our ability to manage the diverse challenges facing irrigation and intensive agriculture.
In 1912 water tables, soil infertility, plant diseases and salt threatened the viability of the MIA. Those threats exist today. They have been managed in the past and will be managed into the future. Programs are in place to ensure the continued sustainability and viability of irrigation.
We must move forward with the same cooperative spirit as our ancestors to ensure the successful integration of sustainable irrigated agriculture and natural resource management. - (Ref:- http://www.mirrigation.com.au/AboutUs/Water_for_Life.htm)