Irrigator responses to groundwater resource management in northern Victoria, southeastern Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • In northern Victoria, farmers are the biggest users of groundwater and therefore the main stakeholders in plans that seek to sustainably manage the resource. Interviews with 30 irrigation farmers in two study areas, analysed using qualitative social research methods, showed that the overwhelming majority of groundwater users agreed with the need for groundwater management and thought that the current plans had achieved sustainable resource use. The farmers also expressed a strong need for clear technical explanations for management decisions, in particular easily understood water level data. The social licence to implement the management plans arose through effective consultation with the community during plan development. Several additional factors combined to gain acceptance for the plans: good data on groundwater usage and aquifer levels is available; irrigation farmers had been exposed to usage restrictions since the late 1990s; an 'adaptive' management approach is in use which allowed refinements to be readily incorporated and fortuitously, plan development coincided with the 1998-2009 drought, when declines in groundwater levels reinforced the usefulness of the plans. The imposition of a nation-wide water use reduction plan in 2012 had relatively little impact in Victoria because of the early implementation of effective groundwater management plans. However, economic difficulties that reduce groundwater users' capacity to pay groundwater management charges mean that the future of the plans in Victoria is not assured. Nevertheless, the high level of trust that exists between Victorian irrigation farmers and the management agencies suggests that the continued use of a consultative approach will continue to produce workable outcomes. Lessons from the Victorian experience may be difficult to apply in other areas of groundwater use in Australia and overseas, where there may be a quite different history of development and culture of groundwater management.


  • Gill, BC
  • Webb, J
  • Wilkinson, R
  • Cherry, D

publication date

  • 2014