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Water Reform

Irrigation And Water Reform History In The Border Rivers

In 1946 the Border Rivers Agreement was made between New South Wales and Queensland which laid the foundations for the sharing of water resources between the two states.  


Development of the irrigation industry in the Border Rivers started in the 1950’s and 60’s with various businesses growing tobacco, hay and some horticulture and viticulture.  


The main progress in developing the broadacre irrigation we have today started in the 1970’s with the emergence of cotton as the major irrigated crop suited to the local climate, land and water resources.  


Coolmunda Dam was built on the Macintyre Brook in 1968, Pindari Dam was built on the Severn River in 1969 and the dam wall was raised in 1995, and Glenlyon Dam was built on Pikes Creek, a tributary of the Dumaresq River, in 1976. Click here for more information on Storage Dams. 


During the 1980’s and 1990’s irrigation development was strongly encouraged in the Border Rivers by state governments in both NSW and QLD, as a means of increasing the value of regional development and therefore state and national GDP. While slow to get going, development reached a peak during the 1990’s as irrigation was demonstrated as a very valuable way of using natural resources for the massively increased benefit of the local community, region and nation, as had been demonstrated with the Snowy River Scheme and subsequent development of irrigation schemes in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys.   


In 1994 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreement around water resource use in the Murray Darling Basin was reached as a result of widespread drought across eastern Australia. NSW and QLD state governments continued to promote the development of irrigation as a means of balancing out the geographic spread of the irrigation industry. Previously most of the irrigation had occurred in the government-owned and developed schemes that were created as part of the Snowy River Scheme in NSW, VIC and SA. The northern development was notable for the lack of government-owned schemes, instead requiring farmers to invest their own private capital in irrigation infrastructure.   

Also, recognising the episodic nature of the climate and streamflows in the northern basin, governments created entitlements and promoted access to water during flooding and high-flow events to be stored in on-farm storages as an alternative to building more headwater storages. 


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State Water Reform 


In the late 1990’s, both state governments recognised that the limits of development had been reached and agreed that no increase in the levels of water extraction would occur above the 1999/2000 level of development, which was determined as a 70% end of system flow. NSW Water Management Act (2000) and Water Act 2000 (QLD) are aimed at managing sustainable level of take, which allows for the sharing of water resources to maintain key ecosystem process and environmental health, as well as protecting critical water needs and providing for social and economic uses of water. The NSW Water Sharing Plans and QLD Water Sharing Rules are the main instrument the Acts provide for managing the state's water resources. 


In 2008, both states released dedicated plans for the management of water resources in both the NSW and QLD Border Rivers. At the core of these two state plans was an Intergovernmental Agreement which detailed the level of water take permitted and the rules around how the water was to be shared between the two states.  


Commonwealth Water Reform 

National Water Initiative (2004) 


The National Water Initiative (NWI), agreed in 2004 by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), is the national blueprint for water reform. The NWI is a shared commitment by governments to increase the efficiency of Australia's water use, leading to greater certainty for investment and productivity, for rural and urban communities and for the environment. The National Water Commission was abolished in 2014 with the repeal of the National Water Commission Act 2004, and the NWC’s functions transferred to other agencies.  

Commonwealth Water Act (2007) 

In 2007, again during a period of bad drought, the Commonwealth Government passed the Commonwealth Water Act (2007) to manage the basin’s water resources as a whole for the first time. The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) was setup and required to develop the Basin Plan, with the primary objective of limiting how much water could be used by industries and communities across the Basin. 

The Basin Plan (2012) 


The aim of the Basin Plan (2012) is to provide a healthy working Basin into the future. The four states across the Murray Darling Basin signed over some of their water management responsibilities to become part of the $13 Billion National Plan for Water Security, The Basin Plan (2012).  


Water Resource Plans (WRP) are a key part of implementing the Basin Plan. They address the objectives of the Basin Plan at a regional level and ensuring the sustainable diversion limits are not exceeded over time. Objectives include environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects.  

Read more about The Basin Plan in the Border Rivers

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