Delivering a healthy working Basin for Australia: Albury NSW

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Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011

Program: Strengthening Basin Communities
Funding recipient: Albury City Council Consortium
Water for the Future Funding: $800,000
Project commencement: May 2010
Project completion: March 2012

Pivot irrigation of canola

A three-stage project funded by the Australian Government's Strengthening Basin Communities program is drawing on local business expertise and building more resilient communities in regional New South Wales.

The Shires of Albury City, Corowa, Greater Hume and Urana rely on the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, for their water supply, along with Billabong Creek, groundwater bores and irrigation canals.

“We have a golden opportunity right now,” consultant project manager David Hicks said. “After 10 years of drought and four years of generally low catchment flows, we've just had a lot of rain.”

“Now that people have had some relief from the pressure of worrying about the lack of water, it's an excellent time to assess the situation and plan for the future.”

The project has been designed in three stages, with the first two stages complete. Stage one focused on ‘Where are we now?’ which looked at the state of the region and the impact climate, water availability and water policy has had during the past decade.

“We carried out extensive socioeconomic, land, water and infrastructure capability research in each of the local government areas, and developed case studies of local businesses to identify the impacts of low water availability, and understand the initiatives they've implemented,” David said.

Stage two took this baseline and explored how to make the participating communities more resilient.

“In conjunction with Booth Associates we held 10 stakeholder meetings with groups across council areas, including dryland farmers and irrigators, major industry, sport and recreation groups and chambers of commerce, to listen and get feedback on issues, future scenarios and outcomes,” David said.

Yarrawonga and Border Golf Club, Mulwala

“We developed scenarios around climate change and looked at potential solutions. These ideas were peer reviewed by water experts in each council and two highly regarded external experts, Professor Lin Crase from Latrobe University and Dr Terry Hillman, former director of Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.”

“From this, we developed 10 recommendations to help address future water challenges and ensure regional growth for the next 30 years.”

“It also means water availability won't be the critical element in attracting investment in the future.”

Stage three will involve formalising the recommendations and completing the planning phase. The overall aim is to provide sufficient water supplies while maintaining viable industries and communities.

Governments at all levels are working with Basin communities to achieve a healthy river system that supports strong and viable communities. Central to this is the strengthened involvement of local communities in the design and roll out of government programs.

The Australian Government is also committed to ‘bridging the gap’ between current water diversions and any final sustainable diversion limits in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, through water savings generated by infrastructure investments and voluntary water purchases.

"Wirraminna Plantings" at the Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre, Burrumbuttock NSW