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Article

Assessing the Impact of Irrigation Efficiency Projects on Return Flows in the South-Eastern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia

1
Grounded in Water, Adelaide, SA 5064, Australia
2
Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3052, Australia
3
RMCG, Bendigo, VIC 3550, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Maria Mimikou
Water 2021, 13(10), 1366; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13101366
Received: 7 April 2021 / Revised: 30 April 2021 / Accepted: 1 May 2021 / Published: 14 May 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Water Use and Scarcity)
Improving irrigation efficiency (IE) is an approach used globally to help meet competing demands for water and facilitate reallocation of water between sectors. In the Murray–Darling Basin in Australia, the Australian government has invested heavily in IE projects to recover water for the environment. However, this approach has been seriously questioned, out of concerns that improved IE would reduce irrigation return flows to rivers and therefore offset water recovery. In this study, we use a water balance model to assess the impact of the IE projects on return flows and highlight sensitivities and uncertainties. The model enables the impact on return flows to be assessed on specific IE projects and regional characteristics. Overall, reductions in return flows are estimated to be less than 20% of the total proposed IE savings. The history of IE in the southern MDB has meant that most of the current reductions are in ground return flows. Our estimate is much lower than two previous studies, mainly due to different assumptions being used on groundwater connectivity between irrigation areas and major streams. While the IE projects significantly reduce seepage to groundwater (with off-farm and on-farm projects reducing seepage by 19% and 53% of total savings respectively), not all seepage reductions will translate to a reduction in ground return flows to rivers. A lower estimate is consistent with existing monitoring and groundwater modeling studies. In this paper, the study results are discussed in a broader context of impacts of IE projects on volumes and salinity of streams and groundwater resources. View Full-Text
Keywords: irrigation efficiency; return flows; reallocation; low flows irrigation efficiency; return flows; reallocation; low flows
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MDPI and ACS Style

Walker, G.R.; Horne, A.C.; Wang, Q.J.; Rendell, R. Assessing the Impact of Irrigation Efficiency Projects on Return Flows in the South-Eastern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Water 2021, 13, 1366. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13101366

AMA Style

Walker GR, Horne AC, Wang QJ, Rendell R. Assessing the Impact of Irrigation Efficiency Projects on Return Flows in the South-Eastern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Water. 2021; 13(10):1366. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13101366

Chicago/Turabian Style

Walker, Glen R., Avril C. Horne, Quan J. Wang, and Rob Rendell. 2021. "Assessing the Impact of Irrigation Efficiency Projects on Return Flows in the South-Eastern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia" Water 13, no. 10: 1366. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13101366

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