Preliminary assessment of conjunctive use opportunities in the Murray Darling Basin

The Murray-Darling Basin has a long history of irrigated agriculture using both surface water and groundwater resources. However, with climate change and the recognition that the environment needs a larger share of the water to maintain its function, irrigated agriculture is under pressure to maintain production and economic viability, with reduced and a sometimes highly variable water source. In this research we explore the extent that the conjunctive use of water can assist in meeting this demand. Here conjunctive use, also termed complementary use, is defined as “management approaches that involve combinations of different water sources, storages or delivery pathways with the objective of achieving better outcomes (environmental, economic and social) from available water (now and in the future)’.

Research has been focused on two case study areas: The Campaspe River region and the Murrumbidgee River region. The research engaged stakeholders in identifying and evaluating opportunities for the complementary use of groundwater and surface water. This bottom-up approach took stakeholders through a facilitated process where the initial focus was on identifying ways to increase agricultural production. Beginning the process by drawing on local knowledge to identify opportunities to do more with existing water proved to be an effective way of engaging irrigators and other industry stakeholders in positive discussions about the future of irrigated agriculture. Opportunities identified by stakeholders were evaluated against a set of criteria that builds upon a triple bottom line approach (i.e. from their technical feasibility, to economic viability, environmental risk and social acceptability). The process utilises the knowledge of local stakeholders, existing data sets and research, including interviews. We are evaluating the feasibility of each conjunctive use option against each criterion using a series of qualitative scales. This enables the comparison of the feasibility across criterion and opportunities to identify which opportunities show promise and warrant more detailed research, and also identify any knowledge gaps which need to be focused upon.

Key researchers: Professor Allan Curtis and Dr Jenifer Ticehurst

Research Program

Integrating Socioeconomics, Policy and Decision Support