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$2 billion irrigation project to deliver 429 GL in water savings

Innovation is key to the success of Australia’s largest irrigation modernisation project, which is on track to achieve 429 GL of water savings a year by October 2020.

The Connections Project is a $2 billion investment funded by the Victorian and Australian Governments that aims to ensure the water security of the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID).

It was conceived a decade ago, while northern Victoria struggled through the crippling Millennium Drought. At the same time, Goulburn-Murray Water’s ageing infrastructure was inefficient, resulting in about 900 GL of water wasted each year through leakage, seepage and evaporation.

These conditions meant something had to be done to protect the future of agriculture in the region, Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler said ahead of his presentation at Ozwater’19 next month.

“The Project is modernising the irrigation infrastructure to boost irrigator productivity, help communities thrive, and foster healthy waterways and wetlands,” he said.

Fisseler said authorities identified the need to shift the GMID from a manual channel system to a fully automated operation, which would result in better accuracy and management of water distribution.

The Connections Project will shift the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District to a fully automated irrigation system. The Connections Project will shift the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District to a fully automated irrigation system.

This is also how the Project will deliver water savings, which will be shared between irrigators, state and Commonwealth environmental water holders, and Melbourne water retailers. Some of the savings will also make up part of Victoria’s contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We are remodelling channel banks, lining channels with clay or plastic, and piping sections of channel to reduce water lost to the system,” Fisseler said.

“We are also decommissioning inefficient spur channels and installing electronic flow meters for accurate rate and measurement.

“Our works that focus on capturing water lost to leakage and seepage capture 45% of system losses.”

The benefits

For landowners, a modern irrigation system means receiving water when and where it’s needed.

“A decade ago, getting out of bed and manually turning the water on at 2am was normal practice,” Fisseler said.

“The automated system enables irrigators to order water via their mobile, with greatly reduced ordering times.”

Although the project is still underway, the benefits it has delivered so far are extensive.

As of 30 March 2019, it had fully modernised the system for more than 6000 landowners, installed 7800 meters and remediated 307km of channel.

This has been done without interrupting water supply in order to balance project deadlines with irrigator needs.

“Sometimes this means delivering works during a short window of time between normal watering patterns, or finding a way to connect temporarily to the modernised system while a spur channel is decommissioned and new pipeline is laid,” Fisseler said.

“We are listening to irrigators and designing fit-for-purpose solutions that make them more efficient on-farm.”

Irrigation innovation

In 2015, a review identified a number of challenges inherent in the Project, including: the organisational structure; scope of work; team culture; landowner needs; lack of local knowledge; and a lack of risk management processes.

Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler. Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler.

As a result, the Project was overhauled and a new team installed, with Fisseler coming on board in March 2016.

“It was clear a reset was needed, and that is exactly what happened,” Fisseler said.

“A new landowner engagement model was put in place that was more transparent than ever before.”

This overhaul put innovation at the heart of the Connections Project, from how works are delivered (using local subcontractors who are involved from the outset) to acknowledging the need to design solutions on a case-by-case basis and identifying the individual actions required for every asset.

How the Project approaches the assets themselves is also unique. For example, at Box Creek Weir, which helps supply the Torrumbarry irrigation area, the team used the same construction footprint as the existing structure, but replaced it with a new weir and fish lock that allows native fish to migrate upstream and return downstream for the first time in a century.

“The Project concept of upgrading 100-year-old assets to capture water savings while delivering a fully automated, state-of-the-art system is innovative in itself,” Fisseler said.

“The result will be a vastly more efficient service, more productive primary producers and healthier waterways to support the longevity of our agricultural region.”

To learn more about the Connections Project, don’t miss Frank Fisseler’s presentation at Ozwater’19 on Thursday, 9 May. Click here to register.