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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Boost partnerships with irrigation sector for environmental water delivery, to public and private lands

NSW Irrigators’ Council (
Private sector

    The NSW Irrigators’ Council is the peak industry body representing irrigation farmers and communities in the state of NSW, Australia. We recognise that our irrigation industry has an important role to contribute to all the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as Goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth), and Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production). Recently, partnerships with the irrigation industry – such as Irrigation Infrastructure Operators (IIOs) – has demonstrated success in using irrigation infrastructure to deliver environmental water to wetlands, on both public and private lands. This contemporary approach is critical to Integrated Water Resource Management, particularly in areas like the Murray-Darling Basin which host a mosaic landscape of deeply interconnected land and water users. With 93% of the Basin’s 30,000 wetlands on private property (largely on farmland), partnerships are key to wetland conservation and management. In particular, voluntary partnerships between the private sector, and Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (the public holding of environmental water purchased from farmers, in addition to river flows) provide an innovative way forward. With environmental water holders now holding 1 in 3 litres of previous irrigation water (in addition to river flows), there is enormous potential to build on already demonstrated success. So far, Murray Irrigation Limited has delivered over 205 gigalitres of environmental water to wetlands, ephemeral creeks and rivers within their footprint since 2001. Murrumbidgee Irrigation has delivered over 11 gigalitres of environmental water since 2015 including to Ramsar-listed sites within their delivery network. Coleambally Irrigation has undertaken 33 environmental watering over 13 sites since 2015, including to areas of the Coleambally Irrigation Biodiversity Reserve to protect Superb Parrots, Southern Bell Frogs and Bunyip Birds. Renmark Irrigation Trust has delivered over 2 gigalitres to inundate 12 sites over 120 hectares since 2017. There are also many examples of individual farmers who privately water wetlands. There is significant potential to take this further. By expanding voluntary partnerships, both existing and new, and with both IIOs and private landholders, environmental watering and management can occur much further into the mosaic landscape. Further, by accompanying this environmental water delivery with complementary on-ground measures, including drawing upon First-Nations knowledge, enhanced outcomes can be achieved.

    Expected Impact

    Expansion of partnerships with IIOs and private landholders better realises Integrated Water Resource Management – i.e. the interconnected management of land, water and related resources, including people. Specifically, it enables environmental water to be best used, by reaching sites further into the landscape, and accessing sites on private land. It also provides a climate change adaptation measure, as a pathway to water sites that may receive less natural inundations with a changing climate altering flow regimes. To demonstrate what’s possible, the proposed Murray Reconnected Floodplains project – by Murray Irrigation Limited (a large private irrigation water delivery company, delivering water to 2,124 landholdings across 724,00 ha in the Southern Basin) - provides one case study. The Murray Irrigation water delivery system is geographically placed to deliver targeted environmental water to thousands of hectares of rivers, creeks and wetlands that connect to the Murray River. The Project seeks to upgrade existing water delivery infrastructure (escapes, access structures and fence crossings) within the region’s rivers, creeks and wetlands to create a large scale connected ecosystem. The expected outcomes include delivering 600 gigalitres of water for environmental outcomes alongside on-ground initiatives, to rehabilitate and rejuvenate: • 2,000 on-farm private wetlands (54,000 ha wetland area), • 2,000km of riparian systems (20,000 ha of riparian beds), and • 74,000 hectares of floodplain ecosystems. Murray Irrigations modernised supply network will enable precise control and measurement of water, enabling targeted environmental outcomes and demonstrating full accountability of public water – including to target at-risk ecosystems. This provides a modern, precision method of environmental watering. This also enables landholders and people within the community to be actively involved in environmental management, creating a sense of ownership, collaboration, and participation – key to overcoming trust deficits, and rebuilding confidence in water management. Similar initiatives to this case study could occur for other IIOs and private landholdings. The extent of what’s possible cannot be underestimated. Within the NSW Basin alone, the extensive network of irrigation channels across IIOs spans over 6000 km to service a delivery area of approximately 1.8 million ha, covering not just agricultural land, but important environmental assets too. This is in addition to the many private landholders outside these IIO footprints, such as private diverters. Through effective partnerships, landscape-level change can be achieved. This action primarily targets SDG 6.5. In the Murray-Darling Basin, significant water reforms have occurred over recent decades – including establishing Sustainable Diversion Limits (with total diversions for agriculture, town water supplies and other industries combined now just 28% of inflows), through the recovery of 1 in 3 litres of previous irrigation water being transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. Following these water management reforms, the next steps need to be on the integrated components - i.e. the related land and other resources (people) to optimise the water management outcomes. Furthermore, this commitment contributes to SDG 6.b - this participatory approach not only enables better environmental outcomes, but contributes to rebuilding confidence and trust amongst communities through their direct involvement.


    A range of Irrigation Infrastructure Operators (IIOs) and a large number of private landholders.

    Additional information

    Goal 6

    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

    Goal 6


    By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all


    Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services


    By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations


    Proportion of population using (a) safely managed sanitation services and (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water


    By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally


    Proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flows safely treated


    Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality


    By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

    Change in water-use efficiency over time


    Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources


    By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate


    Degree of integrated water resources management 


    Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation


    By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

    Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time


    By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

    Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan


    Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management


    Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management

    Goal 12

    Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

    Goal 12


    Implement the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries


    Number of countries developing, adopting or implementing policy instruments aimed at supporting the shift to sustainable consumption and production


    By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources


    Material footprint, material footprint per capita, and material footprint per GDP


    Domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP


    By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses


    (a) Food loss index and (b) food waste index


    By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

    Number of parties to international multilateral environmental agreements on hazardous waste, and other chemicals that meet their commitments and obligations in transmitting information as required by each relevant agreement

    (a) Hazardous waste generated per capita; and (b) proportion of hazardous waste treated, by type of treatment


    By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse


    National recycling rate, tons of material recycled


    Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle

    Number of companies publishing sustainability reports


    Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities


    Number of countries implementing sustainable public procurement policies and action plans


    By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature


    Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development are mainstreamed in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula; (c) teacher education; and (d) student assessment


    Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production


    Installed renewable energy-generating capacity in developing and developed countries (in watts per capita)


    Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products


    Implementation of standard accounting tools to monitor the economic and environmental aspects of tourism sustainability


    Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions, in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist, to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimizing the possible adverse impacts on their development in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities


    Amount of fossil-fuel subsidies (production and consumption) per unit of GDP

    Name Description

    Formal agreements between IIOs or private landholders signed (ongoing)

    Watering and management of a significant number of wetlands, rivers and creeks

    Staff / Technical expertise
    Staff at each IIO, and policy staff at NSWIC.
    Other, please specify
    Water, held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
    In-kind contribution
    Private landholdings and their infrastructure
    No progress reports have been submitted. Please sign in and click here to submit one.
    Action Network
    water logo
    01 January 2022 (start date)
    30 June 2030 (date of completion)
    NSW Irrigators’ Council
    1. Asia and Pacific
    Other beneficiaries


    Contact Information

    Christine, Policy Manager, NSW Irrigators' Council