Water for food

Irrigated agriculture uses about 60% of the water available for human use. Irrigated crops make up about 30% of the value of Australia’s agricultural production.

Drought and bushfires have had a dramatic effect on Australia’s irrigated agriculture. Even through this, it continues to grow steadily because of our farming expertise and resilience.

Even with the low water allocations, our farmers continue to produce more than enough food to meet Australia’s needs.

Water availability and drought

Irrigators get the vast bulk of the available water in the Murray-Darling Basin. They produce food and fibre for us all.

State and territory governments allocate water within each catchment. This depends on how much water is available.

This drought has had a significant impact on the amount of water available for irrigated agriculture. Low water availability and high prices on the water market has meant tough choices for irrigator—what to grow and whether to buy more water or sell what they have to other irrigators.

Current outlook

Read the Murray–Darling Basin drought update (Murray–Darling Basin Authority).

See Bureau of Meteorology data for Australia’s:

Water reform in the Murray–Darling Basin

Governments, irrigators and communities have been working together to improve the sustainability of water management in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Major changes have been made in the way we use our water resources to better balance the economic, community, environmental and cultural benefits.

Managing water

Water resource management is about sharing a scarce and nationally significant resource. It needs to be done fairly.

Basin governments manage water for everyone. This includes households, irrigators, industries, and for our natural heritage. Water must be managed in the national interest for the benefit of future generations.

Healthy rivers underpin secure food production. To sustain Basin communities now and into the future, our rivers and ecosystems need water and our rivers need to run to the sea.

Commonwealth environmental water holdings are subject to the same allocation, carryover and other rules as other water users. When it’s dry, environmental water holdings receive less allocation. Just like other water users.

Diverting Commonwealth environmental water

There have been calls to access water held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to grow specific crops during the drought. Diverting environmental water to agricultural production is not an option. Water purchased for the environment can only be used to directly support the health of floodplains, rivers and wetlands. It cannot be given away or borrowed.

Just like other water users, when it’s dry, environmental water holders get less water. This water is needed to maintain the health of our rivers and wetlands when rainfall is so low.

Reallocating water from one sector to another would undermine the water market. Diverting environmental water won't create any new water.

Last reviewed: 14 October 2020
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