State Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Irrigation and Exploitation

Chaffey Brothers 
Piping the water away 
Vineyards and orchards 
Cotton and rice 

South Australia's first major irrigation system was introduced to Renmark in 1887 by Canadian George Chaffey, and greatly accelerated the settlement of the River areas.

Following this development, the River's water resources weredrawn on at will to satisfy the political and economic impetus for closer settlement and intensive agriculture. The Soldier Settlement schemes that followed both World Wars initiated the further development of fruit blocks and vineyards under irrigation.

The Murray-Darling Basin includes more than 70 per cent of Australia's total area of irrigated crops and pastures. The Basin has been dubbed 'Australia's food bowl', as it is the principal source of Australian agricultural produce. Different states and areas have developed their own irrigation regions and practices, but any activities upstream affect the quantity and quality of water downstream in South Australia.

Widespread pipeline systems, first developed during the 1940s, have been constructed to supply mains water to most of the settled areas of South Australia, servicing communities, industry, agriculture and the environment of South Australia.

Today there is a greater understanding of the implications and consequences of exploiting the River's water resources. It is now recognised that for the long-term viability of the River as a water resource, we need to balance consumptive uses of water like irrigation, with the environmental need for sufficient flows of fresh water to keep the River Murray healthy. Water efficiency and allocation have become fierce political issues and have formed the basis of policy change. In some cases controversial high-irrigation crops such as cotton and rice have attracted attention as water users are subject to government restrictions.

With a myriad of stakeholders relying on this water supply, there is a great political, social and economic incentive to incorporate water quality and environmental factors into decisions about just how much irrigation and exploitation occurs.


Murray Darling Basin Authority See: Water



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