Drip-irrigation provides water savings and labour efficiency
Reg and Kay Lehmann, who grow wine grapes on a 20 hectare property in Renmark, South Australia, are seeing direct economic returns from substantial water and labour savings following the installation of a modern and efficient watering system, funded under the Australian Government’s On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Programme (OFIEP).
OFEIP is a competitive grants programme that provides funding for irrigation upgrades in exchange for water savings through improving the efficiency and productivity of on-farm irrigation water use and management.
Completed in 2012, the Lehmann’s irrigation upgrade saw 21.5 hectares of old low-level sprinklers replaced with a new automated drip system, new pumps, filtration and fertigation equipment and a soil moisture monitoring system.
As a result of these changes it is estimated they’ve saved 48 megalitres of water, translating to around 2.3 megalitres per hectare.
The old watering system consisted of 6.6 metres x 6.6 metres impact sprinklers which were installed in the 1990s. According to Mr Lehmann, the new system is a large improvement when compared with the older low-level sprinklers.
“The old system was prone to blockages from ants, it watered unevenly and it required a lot of manual labour checking and fixing sprinklers” Mr Lehmann said.
Mr Lehmann estimates that the old system required around 200 hours of labour per year.
“Much of this work was at unsociable times (weekends) and was always wet, as it involved driving up and down in sprinklers, which was not pleasant in the colder months” he said.
By contrast, the labour to maintain the new automated system is mostly related to filtration, flushing drip lines and occasionally fixing punctured drip lines that are damaged by kangaroos – around 15 hours per year.
The new system only uses about 5.5 to 6.5 megalitres per hectare of water per year. The irrigation schedule is to apply five hour irrigations, or 5 millimetres in 10 hectare shifts, all with drip irrigation. Water demand is tracked with an EnviroSCAN soil moisture monitoring system, which Mr Lehmann finds is a very useful tool for making sure water is applied in the right amount and at the right time.
An innovative feature of the new system is the use of a 22 000 litre tank to collect, settle out and reuse backflush water. The tank is designed with an offtake located off the bottom of the tank so the sediment is not recirculated and can be easily flushed out from the bottom valve when required. Mr Lehmann believes this tank may save 4-8 megalitres per year, depending on how dirty the river water is.
The cost of the new system was $146 090, which included $9000 of Mr Lehmann’s “in kind” labour to install the drip lines. However, this cost is lower than many new drip systems because the main pipeline was already in place.
In addition to the economic benefits provided by the new drip-irrigation system, the Lehmann’s believe the new system offers a host of other social and environmental benefits.
“Full automation enables us to get away at weekends and we can be confident we can control the irrigation. Given the labour savings, I now feel like I am semi-retired. With the old system I would have needed to sell up as it was not sustainable. There are environmental benefits as well, because my irrigation drains never run now. This means less salt and nutrient into the environment” Mr Lehmann said.
The Australian Government has announced $59.5 million to undertake 39 feasibility studies to determine the best sites for new water infrastructure projects. The funding for feasibility studies will help governments and their project partners make investment decisions on new water infrastructure and accelerate the completion of comprehensive and detailed business cases.
The feasibility funding is part of the $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund (NWIDF) which implements the Australian Government’s commitment to start the detailed planning necessary to build or upgrade existing water infrastructure, including dams, pipelines, weirs, managed aquifer recharge and wastewater treatment or reuse schemes.
This vital water infrastructure planning will help secure the nation’s water supplies and deliver regional economic development benefits for Australia. Strategic investment in water infrastructure will support Australian irrigated agriculture to boost production, enhance profitability and contribute to the food and fibre needs of tomorrow.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said “Under the fund, we have already made available almost $60 million to expedite the planning work needed to get major projects shovel-ready and now we are making $440 million available for capital works to get priority projects built as quickly as possible. In total, up to $200 million has been dedicated to water infrastructure projects in Northern Australia.
“This is a historic investment in Australian water. The $500 million fund on top of the $2 billion Water Infrastructure Loans Facility is a $2.5 billion windfall to drive growth into our regional economies and communities,” Minster Joyce said.
In addition to the feasibility studies the Australian Government has committed to funding the construction of water infrastructure projects across the country, including Rookwood Weir in Queensland ($130 million), Dungowan Dam in New South Wales ($75 million), modernisation of the Macalister Irrigation District in Victoria ($20 million), South West Loddon pipeline in Victoria ($20 million) and McLaren Vale water storage in South Australia ($2.5 million).
These water infrastructure initiatives recognise that water regulation, planning and management is the responsibility of the state and territory governments, but that the Australian Government can, through targeted funding, expedite the construction of water infrastructure to improve regional water security.
The funding component for northern Australia recognises its unique circumstances, especially the lack of water resource assessments at a catchment level, which are a barrier to water infrastructure development. In contrast, southern Australia has an extensive range of scientific and technical research available and generally has the necessary infrastructure and mature water markets in place.
By choosing to use more water-efficient products in the home, Australians are saving water and reducing their water and energy bills thanks to Australia’s principal water-savings programme – the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme.
Director of the well-recognised star-rating scheme, Carol Grossman, said saving water was paramount in today’s changing climate. Saving money on water bills and encouraging innovative technology were also key factors in the popularity of WELS.
“Australia’s water resources are highly variable, with frequent droughts affecting the amount of water available for urban, agricultural and environmental use,” Dr Grossman said.
“Reducing water consumption makes communities more resilient to drought, reduces the need for costly infrastructure and leaves more water available for other uses, such as irrigated agriculture.”
WELS gives manufacturers an incentive to design more water-efficient products, knowing these products will carry more stars and be more attractive to consumers.
The scheme requires certain products to be registered and labelled with their water efficiency in accordance with the standard set under the national Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act2005. Manufacturers, suppliers and retailers must comply with WELS legislation.
Currently the scheme covers toilets, clothes washing machines, dishwashers, urinals, taps, showers and flow controllers.
Water efficiency labelling schemes are used in a number of countries around the world, including New Zealand, Singapore and the European Union.Find out more about the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme.
Irrigators holding tradable surface water entitlements in Queensland’s Murray-Darling Basin may be eligible to apply for funding under the Australian Government’s Healthy Headwaters Use Efficiency (HHWUE) programme.
The Australian Government has committed up to $154.9 million towards HHWUE projects to help irrigators in Queensland improve water efficiency on their farms. The programme is being delivered by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
Irrigators can apply for funding for efficient irrigation systems and technologies to reduce water loss, improve farm profitability and return a share of the water savings to the rivers, wetlands and floodplains in the northern Murray Darling Basin.
Funding covers a range of water-saving projects, such as converting siphon systems to bankless channels or upgrading water storage to boost capacity and minimise water losses. Approved projects will receive funding for up to 90 per cent of costs.
Allan and Kerrie Neale run Cooinda Cropping near St George, Queensland. They grow irrigated cotton and irrigated forage for hay. Their hay production has been boosted by a 387 metre centre pivot with a swing arm, overhead irrigation system.
“The change was essential for adapting the field into an area suitable for growing lucerne to supply our thriving hay business. We didn’t gain any more irrigable area, but going from a straight pivot to a pivot with a swing arm we were able to use 16 hectares we’d previously been unable to reach” Mr Neale said.
The move also saw them win the Innovative Grower of the Year prize at a local awards night.
Since HHWUE’s introduction in 2010, a total of 82 on-farm projects have been approved, completed or contracted. These projects have secured up to 22.7 gigalitres (long term average annual yield) of water savings for the environment.
As at the end of October, about $34 million in funding is available for the current round of the programme which was announced in July 2016. Applications are submitted on a monthly basis.
Find out more about the Healthy Headwaters Use Efficiency programme.
Given Australia’s variable climate and issues associated with water access, accurate and comprehensive information regarding rainfall, inflows, storages and water sources from major water regions around the country is essential.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s latest National Water Account, for the year 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015, provides water accounting reports for 10 significant water resource management regions: Adelaide, Burdekin, Canberra, Daly, Melbourne, Murray–Darling Basin, Ord, Perth, South East Queensland and Sydney.
These 10 regions account for about 75 per cent of Australia’s population and up to 80 per cent of total water use.
The latest account covers the 2014–15 financial year, which is the latest data set currently available.
The account reveals information about water stores and flows, water rights and water use. It also reports on the volumes of water traded, extracted and managed for economic, social, cultural and environmental benefit.
The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said: “Farmers, industry and governments across Australia all benefit when we work with credible and comprehensive water information. It’s very hard to manage what you don't measure—this makes it a whole lot easier.”
“The accounts for each region are prepared by the Bureau of Meteorology with collaborators including state and territory governments and water agencies. It's credible data backed by the Bureau and rigorous accountancy all in one invaluable tool,” Minister Joyce said.
The account is a product of the emerging practice of water accounting, which combines the science of hydrology with financial accounting models.
Water accounting is the systematic process of identifying, recognising, quantifying, reporting and assuring information about water, the rights or other claims to water, and obligations against that water.
Robust water accounts build confidence in our knowledge of the amount of water available, traded, extracted, used, and managed for environmental and other purposes.
Australia’s world leading Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme, water infrastructure and water quality management policy were in the spotlight at the World Water Congress & Exhibition 2016 held in Brisbane recently.
As joint-principal sponsor, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources had the opportunity to showcase their effective water policy and management on the world stage.
Richard McLoughlin, Water Resources Assistant Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, said “Supporting the sustainable and productive management and use of rivers and water resources is a key priority for the department and our support of the congress was a testament to that.”
“We had the opportunity to network with the world’s top water professionals, with over 5000 delegates, from all over the world,” Mr McLoughlin said.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources works with communities, businesses and other governments to minimise unsustainable water use and return water to the environment.
“We were really excited to share our experience in the sustainable and equitable management of water resources internationally. Our exhibition and speaking program highlighted Australia’s achievements in water policymaking, water resource assessment, and river basin planning and operations. It showcased the science, tools and services that deliver a reliable picture of Australia’s water resources to inform the development of policies and strategies for effective water resource management,” Mr McLoughlin said.
Australia’s water is critical to the future of agriculture and the wellbeing of the environment and our communities.
Find out more about the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources water policy and resources.
Native fish are important to the health of the Murray-Darling river system and a vital part of the food web but many species are in decline. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan aims to reverse this. In the latest edition of RipRap magazine read about the work being done to improve river health and the benefits environmental watering is bringing. Free to download.