Sustainable Irrigation

The Sustainable Irrigation Program oversees the delivery of on-ground works and community engagement relating to sustainable irrigation in the Goulburn Broken Catchment. These activities align with overarching strategies for the Goulburn Broken Catchment and the Murray Darling Basin.

The Shepparton Irrigation Region (Agricultural Floodplains) Land And Water Management Plan 2016-2020 directs the strategic priorities for investment across the irrigated landscape of the Goulburn Broken Catchment.

The Shepparton Irrigation Region Land and Water Management Plan (SIRLWMP) was updated for the fifth time in 2016 and used resilience and adaptive approaches.  Activities are focused around five critical attributes of water availably, farm and regional viability, native vegetation, watertables and water quality.  The plan builds on three decades of lessons and achievements.

Plan implementation includes a range of activities such as community engagement and involvement in policy directions, interventions and research, as well as a range of on-ground works.  The SIRLWMP implementation is overseen by a community-based committee SIR People, Planning and Integration Committee (SIRPPIC).  The intent is to increase regional resilience by connecting stakeholders: the plan and its resulting processes influence how stakeholders invest, impacting positively on natural resources.

The original 30-year plan was prepared by the regional community in 1989, mainly as a response to increasing salinity and watertables in the region.  The SIRLWMP may be the longest running integrated natural resource management plan supported by both the community and governments in Australia, and possibly the world.

The focus on managing the natural base evolved from an emphasis on the single threat of salinity in the 1980s to integrated catchment management in the mid-1990s, to valuing total benefits via ‘ecosystem services’ (such as maintaining productive soils and clean water) in the early 2000s, to the resilience of complex systems of people and nature from 2005.

While the community-agency partnership model fostered during development and implementation of the 1989 plan remains a feature today, the current update also highlights the importance of linking long-term management of natural resources more directly with the business of food production. This update also lays down a clearer pathway between the complex system of people and nature and what needs to be done to make the regional system resilient.

The current SIRLWMP is in two parts:

Part A:          Growing the natural advantage establishes the planning framework that links the long-term strategic vision with on-ground action and ongoing adaptation.

Part B:           SIR profile, achievements, economic analysis and implementation program information.

  • Groundwater and salinity control:

                               - Provision of groundwater pumping to protect assets

                               - Reporting under the Basin Salinity Management Plan

                               - Research and development

                              -  Shallow Groundwater in the Shepparton Irrigation Region website

                     - Watertable maps 

The Goulburn Broken CMA uses resilience thinking in its strategic planning. Resilience thinking focuses on the connections between people and nature, how these change and how to achieve our goals. This approach recognises social-ecological systems (SES) as strategic planning areas. In one of these SES (the highly productive Agricultural Floodplains) we recognised vegetation extent as one of five critical attributes that interact as components of a functioning system.

Importance of biodiversity in an irrigated landscape

The region is well-placed in terms of agricultural production, but this places heavy demands on the underpinning natural resource base of soils, water, and biodiversity ( native vegetation extent). Clearing (direct removal), degradation and non-regeneration of native vegetation (eg. paddock trees) are the biggest threat to native vegetation extent. A reduction in native vegetation extent and associated biodiversity, impacts on our long-term productive capacity, as well as the environment. For example, many insect-eating birds that benefit crops and pastures are largely absent without shrubs and natural ground layers. Native vegetation is also nature’s water purifier, reducing the risk of large loads of sediments and nutrients from entering our waterways.

Increasing native vegetation extent in an irrigated landscape using landscape scale planning

  • Building upon existing native vegetation

Our landscape-scale approach uses the existing native vegetation as the basis to build upon, through protecting, enhancement, and revegetation (eg. corridors). This region has many key native vegetation areas such as along waterways and natural depressions, roadsides, public land reserves/national parks (eg. Goulburn River, Broken Boosey, Lower Goulburn, Barmah, and the Murray River), wetlands (eg. Reedy Swamp, Doctors Swamp, Bray’s Swamp and Kinnaird’s Wetland), and on private land (eg. paddock trees and remnants). Native vegetation extent includes all vegetation layers (eg. grasslands, wetlands, shrubs, and overstorey).

  • Prioritising key action areas (landscapes)

To  improve the native vegetation extent and improve resilience the following aspects were considered in determining landscapes to target for action:

  • smaller landscape scale areas that are small enough to understand and manage the critical details, yet large enough to allocate resources efficiently; and
  • common landscape characteristics such as environmental sustainability (e.g. landscape context), economic sustainability (e.g. land use type) and social sustainability (e.g. existing community networks).

As a result, 13 priority landscapes across the Agricultural Floodplains were identified to target for native vegetation extent projects (targeted but not excluding other areas).

Focal landscapes map for the Agricultural Floodplains

  • Determining targets for native vegetation extent (thresholds for change)

Understanding system resilience (and thresholds) drives our decision making in setting revegetation targets for increasing native vegetation extent across our prioritised landscapes. Research examining woodland birds’ responses to landscape change in woodland habitats across Victoria (Deakin University), informed our planning for native vegetation extent targets: How much habitat is enough?

The research found that there are stepped thresholds in vegetation extent at which there are significant increases in bird populations, commonly used as indicators of biodiversity. One of these thresholds occurs above 10% vegetation extent, where landscapes can support many bird species, but up to 30-35% cover is required to support most species.

  • Applying this research across the landscape

Native vegetation extent (based on tree cover) was spatially analysed in each of the  priority landscapes and showed many landscapes with below critical cover to support most woodland bird species (eg. between 1%-30%). In collaboration with communities, we are using these thresholds as key factors in land-use planning decisions, such as how much revegetation in each landscape is required and where increasing native vegetation extent is possible.

Integrating native vegetation extent across all programs in the Shepparton Irrigation Region Land and Water Management Plan and Partnerships

All five critical attributes of the SIR Region Land and Water Management Plan (native vegetation extent, water quality, farm and regional viability, watertables, and water availability) are interconnected. Native vegetation extent critical attribute planning, is integrated across all Land and Water Management and Regional Catchment Strategy programs, such as:

Protecting native vegetation extent from direct or indirect removal

The loss of native vegetation is one of the largest direct impacts on native vegetation extent in the irrigation area and Goulburn Broken Catchment. The following guide has been established to assist landholders to understand the legislation and requirements for protecting native vegetation and other natural resource management assets.

Was the native vegetation planted on my property publicly funded ?


The Goulburn Broken CMA acknowledges and respects First Nations people and the deep connection they have with their land and waters.

We acknowledge the Yorta Yorta and Taungurung people and their ancestors/forbears as Traditional Owners of the land and waters in the Goulburn Broken Catchment (and beyond). We value our ongoing partnerships with Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Taungurung Land and Waters Council for the health of Country and its people.

We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge and recognise the primacy of Traditional Owners obligations, rights and responsibilities to use and care for their traditional lands and waters.

168 Welsford Street, PO Box 1752, Shepparton VIC 3630
T (03) 5822 7700
F (03) 5831 6254

89 Sydney Road, PO Box 124, Benalla VIC 3672
T (03) 5822 7700

Shop 5/10 High Street, Yea VIC 3717
T (03) 5822 7700

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