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The Murrumbidgee

The Murrumbidgee

The Murrumbidgee, the ultimate connector

The Murrumbidgee River can be seen as the ultimate connector. By harnessing its water for irrigation, a complex network of interconnected systems has evolved with the river at its heart. Together these diverse elements make the Murrumbidgee region one of Australia’s most productive and vibrant.

If we’ve learned anything from nature, it’s the importance of taking a holistic view of life and valuing diversity within the whole. Diversity benefits ecosystems, yet they can only operate well when the different elements work together. Likewise, businesses require clear focus and purpose to prosper, but many factors must come together to succeed. Communities are most resilient and able to harness this diversity when they collaborate and interconnect.

Throughout the Murrumbidgee, a wealth of irrigated products generate local processing industries. Rice is stored and milled at Leeton and Coleambally[1]. Cotton is processed at Carrathool, Hillston, and Leeton. A major poultry processor, feed mill, and hatchery are at Hanworth, Griffith[2], while egg production facilities are at Griffith and West Wyalong[3]. Other livestock processed locally include pigs, sheep, and cattle. Diverse post-farm processing includes leading Australian wineries, oil seed and citrus processing. Almond and walnut packing sheds[4] have followed more recently, with hazelnut processing mooted for Narrandera[5].

Agri-tourism sprouts from the area’s irrigated outputs. Easy access from Sydney and Melbourne, the area’s vines, lush pastures, grazing livestock, and community interest in food provenance make the Murrumbidgee region well placed to attract visitors. Alongside Instagramable flowering canola and well-known wineries, agri-tourism experiences abound. Some include the Taste Riverina Food and Wine Adventure, a culinary train journey and region showcase connecting Sydney and Griffith, and Griffith Tours combining agriculture, wineries and food production with the area’s history and irrigation. Agricultural Tours Riverina visit a mix of agricultural enterprises and farming approaches that tap the area’s diversity.

As a working river, the Murrumbidgee supports this irrigated agriculture and its associated industries, communities, and the environment. Water managers strive to balance all these interests with the extraction and regulation required to support these needs. Delivering environmental water in the Murrumbidgee is carefully managed with a focus on the wetlands and riverine assets that make up critical habitat to maintain regional biodiversity[6]. Flow-MER, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office’s on-ground Monitoring, Evaluation and Research program, informs water management and delivery decisions so that the environmental outcomes are maximised. The Murrumbidgee Environmental Water Advisory Group (EWAG) focuses on waterway health and resilience, providing advice on water management of environmental water in the catchment.

Likewise, for the region’s irrigation companies, a healthy river system and aquatic environments are crucial. Murrumbidgee Irrigation (MI) works with irrigators and customers, promoting enhanced environmental outcomes and ensuring customers use their precious resource with optimum efficiency. The company’s infrastructure and delivery systems are continually improving to ensure every possible water saving. In the neighbouring irrigation area, Coleambally Irrigation works with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to use the company’s channel infrastructure for wetland watering. Here, water is delivered to sites that otherwise would only be inundated in extremely wet years. The company notes that many of these sites are on private land, with owners voluntarily managing the areas for wildlife conservation.

The health of the Murrumbidgee River – the Marrambidya Bila – is paramount for the region’s traditional custodians, the Wiradjuri people. They’re bestowed with a cultural and spiritual obligation to care for it for future generations, as are the traditional owners where the Murrumbidgee courses through the Barapa Barapa, Muthi Muthi, Nari Nari, Ngarigo, Ngunnawal, Nyeri Nyeri, Wadi Wadi, Walgalu, Wamba Wamba, and Weki Weki Nations[7].

The Murrumbidgee’s areas of vast cultural and environmental significance include Gayini (Nimmie-Caira) – home to the Nari Nari people for 60,000 years. The largest remaining wetlands in the Murrumbidgee Valley, the area’s return to its traditional custodians with the Nimmie-Caira Project is a landmark example of industry and conservation working together. Purchased under an agreement between the Australian and NSW governments in 2013, the NSW government bought 19 separate properties and water entitlements from 11 property holders in the Balranald–Hay area[8] assisted by the Australian government. Completed in 2019 on time and under budget, this was a $180 million water-saving project for NSW, particularly for the Murrumbidgee region[9].

What this achieved is priceless: dubbed ‘the Kakadu of the south’, the area is significant as here the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, and Murray Rivers join. Traditionally an anabranch of the Murrumbidgee River, the Nimmie-Caira project restores the area’s flood flows, reconnecting them with the River further down in the landscape.

Other ways industry and wildlife conservation collaborate in the Murrumbidgee region include the Bitterns in Rice Project. Here rice farming integrates with conserving the globally endangered Australasian Bittern, with the Rice Growers’ Association of Australia (RGA) and Birdlife Australia conserving this secretive bird since 2012. The Australasian Bittern homes in Leeton’s Fivebough and Tuckerbil Wetlands, too. Following the Fivebough & Tuckerbil Wetlands Trust’s work, which local organisations and interest groups supported, they became a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2002. A BirdLife International Important Bird Area, the wetlands support glossy ibis, sharp-tailed sandpipers, Australian painted snipe, and brolgas, enthralling birdwatching visitors.

With so many diverse uses of the Murrumbidgee’s precious resource, working together in a changing climate is crucial. Along the Murrumbidgee, groups collaborate to bring about diverse water and environmental policy for drought-protective, sustainable practices and policies. The Southern NSW Drought resilience and Innovation Hub is a prime example. Led by Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga, this links primary producers, Indigenous, community and industry groups, researchers, entrepreneurs, education institutions, and government and resource management, practitioners. Together they’re preparing for increased resilience to drought.

Community and industry thrive when smart collaboration drives progress. The towns, businesses, and industry sectors are brought together by the life force of the Murrumbidgee River. Together, the region’s people are working symbiotically to ensure its future prosperity and health. And when resilience is demanded, they harness their wide-ranging skills and knowledge to approach challenges collectively.

Much like the Murrumbidgee River’s ebbs and flows, the diversity it sparks and the collaboration it inspires are central to the region’s success.

 

[1] NSW Department of Primary Industries (2020) p. 3

[2] NSW Department of Primary Industries (2020) p. 25

[3] NSW Department of Primary Industries (2020) p. 4

[4] NSW Department of Primary Industries (2020) p. 26

[5] Neales, S. (2016, April 19). ‘Murrumbidgee hazelnut pioneers sees Ferrero Rocher pick up idea’. Retrieved from theaustralian.com.au

[6] Commonwealth Environment Water Office. Selected area: Murrumbidgee. ‘Why this area is so important’. Retrieved from flow-mer.org.au

[7] The Murrumbidgee catchment and the Long Term Water Plan explained. Retrieved from environment.nsw.gov.au

[8] NSW Department of Planning and Environment. The Nimmie-Caira Project. ‘Celebrating a successful partnership’. Retrieved from industry.nsw.gov.au

[9] NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

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