Irrigation Leader
Photo of tour group standing on Goulburn Weir

Impressions of Australia

from February 17–22, 2018, Irrigation Leader magazine, Rubicon Water, International Water Screens, and Alligare sponsored the 3rd Annual Irrigation Leader Magazine Irrigation Education Tour. This year, the tour returned to Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, to visit Goulburn-Murray Water, Coleambally Irrigation, and Murrumbidgee Irrigation. Stops on the tour included the Great Ocean Road, the Rubicon Water factory, a low energy pipeline installation, a dairy farm, and a irrigation demonstration farm. The tour highlighted how the latest in water delivery technology addresses the challenges of moving water and growing crops Down Under. The following participants shared their impressions of the tour and Australia

Australia has water supply issues. It has taken significant steps politically and technologically to make better use of a limited resource. The open-channel automation implementation by the larger irrigation districts has been a large component of their success. I greatly benefited from seeing these systems and technology in person during the tour. I was impressed by the amount of financial resources the federal and state governments have committed toward improving technology and the amount of water that has resulted for the benefit of agricultural, industrial, municipal, and environmental needs. It’s an example of how using the financial resources of the many and working together can benefit the country as a whole.

The Australians were great hosts. The flat whites and lamingtons were the best—that’s coffee with cream and a traditional Australian cake covered in chocolate and coconut.

Roger Sonnichsen

Assistant Manager, Quincy Columbia Basin Irrigation District
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It was amazing to see the canal automation and modernization of Australian irrigation districts, made possible by Rubicon’s control gates in conjunction with the flat terrain and canal systems. The Rubicon factory tour allowed us to learn more about the control gates and how they are assembled. Rubicon’s staff was very friendly and welcoming and provided useful insights about their gates. When talking about irrigation water rights or entitlements, many of the Aussies referred to them as “liquid gold.” I was impressed with their proactive mentality in dealing with the issues surrounding irrigation and farming. I thought it was unique how they have unbundled the water rights or entitlement from the land, allowing the water to be owned separately from the land. The open-market system in which additional water can be traded or purchased on an as-needed basis appears to allow for greater flexibility and opportunities for irrigators.

Ben Woodard Assistant Engineering Manager, Kennewick Irrigation District

Melbourne and Sydney are beautiful, active, and visitor-friendly cities that were highlights of this trip as were the tour participants that I was privileged to meet and tour with! Australia is certainly unique in its water rights administration and water trading practices. Water shortages and the flat topography have forced the development of advanced automation technology to increase the efficiency of irrigation water delivery and on-farm irrigation practices. The interactions we had with the irrigation community, including elected officials, irrigation district staff, and farmers, were certainly informative, cooperative, and cordial. I would like to give a special thanks to Tony Oakes and Damien Pearson, our Australian tour hosts and sponsors, for their outstanding effort in putting together and leading this excellent tour, as well as Irrigation Leader magazine and the other sponsors who made this tour a great success.

Stuart Crane Engineer, Yakama Nation

Every time I visit Australia, I am always impressed by the beauty of the countryside and the friendliness of the Australian people. They are always happy you have taken the time to see how they do things, and they enjoy the comparison to our procedures. Such was the case on this tour. I enjoyed seeing the modernization of the irrigation systems. Things have come a long way from back in the early 1990s when I lived in the Griffith area for several months. Rubicon put together a good schedule, allowing us to see many irrigation schemes and providing us with time to enjoy the areas as well.

We received presentations at each location of what the districts have gone through politically and financially to bring them to their current conditions. It would be nice if our government saw the value in providing funding to our irrigation districts for infrastructure updates like the Australian government has. For us at Alligare, the future is bright because aquatic weed control is a necessity to keep the Rubicon infrastructure operating as designed. As MAGNACIDE H has been the sole aquatic herbicide used in Australia since the mid 1960s, we will continue to be an important partner in Australian irrigation.

Dave Blodget

Western Aquatics Manager, Alligare

The 2018 Irrigation Education Tour to Australia was an eye-opening experience and a great opportunity to exchange ideas on water management and policy. We covered critical topics, from drought planning and agricultural production to infrastructure development and technology implementation. Beyond the information that was shared, it was also an excellent opportunity to get to know water managers from both the United States and Australia.

The time touring projects and sharing meals allowed me to get to know both the issues facing Australian farmers and water managers as well as the people who are working to address them. It was also interesting to realize that although we literally couldn’t be farther apart geographically, we deal with many of the same issues. The information I gathered, the projects I saw, and the people I met made an impression that will last a lifetime. This tour gave me a valuable perspective that will not only benefit me, but that will also benefit my employer, the National Water Resources Association. I would like to thank Rubicon, Alligare, International Water Screens, and Irrigation Leader for making the tour possible.

Ian Lyle

Executive Vice President, National Water Resources Association

Water Strategies, working closely with Rubicon, irrigation districts, and other irrigation-related companies, put together a truly interesting educational tour this past February. The hospitality of our Australian hosts was typical Aussie, which means outstanding! This type of tour is really a must for irrigation leaders from the United States. This trip gave us a first-hand opportunity to see new irrigation equipment and strategies being implemented in the field.

Tony Oakes from Rubicon was a wonderful tour guide, and his interaction with our driver, Tim, made for quite the comedy routine. Our interaction with numerous farmers from each of the areas we toured gave me a wonderful insight on the challenges of each of the regions we toured. The tours of the irrigation schemes, or districts, and their use of automated water control structures, canal lining, scheduling, and other strategies to greatly improve deliver efficiency, was amazing. A special thanks to Kris Polly from Water Strategies, Tony Oakes from Rubicon, the irrigation districts, and the irrigation-related companies that made this tour such an outstanding experience.

Robert Faubion

Board President, Elephant Butte Irrigation District

The Australia trip was an outstanding opportunity to see best practices in an arid climate similar to that of Arizona. I was amazed by the amount of farming in Australia, given the limited supply of water. Rubicon did an outstanding job providing perspectives from several different irrigation districts in both Victoria and New South Wales. Their manufacturing plant was well structured and set to provide the nation’s water delivery systems. Our hosts graciously allowed us the opportunity to visit wildlife during our trip. I was pleased to have the opportunity to pet a koala bear and see kangaroos.

Cheryl Zittle Senior Director Water Services, Salt River Project

The Australian trip was well worth the time. One similarity I noted was that a lot of the problems that Australian farmers face are close to those of U.S. farmers. All are concerned with using water as efficiently as possible. A lot of the regulations that we face are common in Australia as well. It was interesting to see the size and scale of the Australian canal systems, especially the fully automated ones. The technology is available to do tremendous things in efficiency through automation. The trip was well planned, and I would highly recommend it to anyone involved in surface water irrigation.

Duane Vorderstrasse Board Secretary/Treasurer, Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District

Our time touring Australia, although it was short, was an awesome experience. The majority of Australia’s population lives along the continent’s coastal shoreline. On one of the first days there, we drove the scenic coastal highway. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful drive with spectacular views. Then we headed north toward the outback and visited four irrigation districts to learn about their challenges and their successes. Over a million acres are under irrigation in the region that we toured. The area is semiarid, only receiving 10 to 15 inches of rainfall annually. The main crops grown are grains and vegetables, with some fruit and wine grapes (home of Yellow Tail wine!).

Their watersheds are not huge and they lay many miles to the east of the irrigable ground. Water allotments are determined based on the spring forecast of snowpack. Some years, the allotment is as low as 10 inches per acre, meaning farmers have to either purchase additional water at a much higher price if it is even available or supplement with groundwater. Conservation is paramount, and they have invested tens and maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars modernizing their irrigation systems to reach peak efficiencies. The area was flat as a pancake with hardly ever a mountain in sight. The people were friendly and always willing to talk to an American tourist. Our final day found us on a tour boat in Sydney Harbor. It was warm andsunny, and we enjoyed it even more thinking of the freezing temperatures back home. Overall, our time in Australia was enjoyable, educational, and relaxing.

Darvin Fales

Secretary-Manager, Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District

It was my first time going to Australia. The trip was great. The way the Australian’s deliver water is similar to the way we deliver water in the United States. However, you can essentially purchase water rights in Australia; it is almost like a commodity. It was interesting to learn about that and to see who has priority to the water depending on the type of crops grown. For me, the most beneficial part of the tour was spending a lot of time with people from the United States who work in the industry, especially the irrigation district managers. IWS would definitely go on the trip again.

Chris Gargan International Water Screens

Our trip to Australia was rewarding and worthwhile. There was some fun, leisure time, and sightseeing, but a fair amount of time was spent on the reason for the tour: seeing how water is managed in another country whose technology is generally ahead of ours. There was a good mix of people with differing backgrounds and from different parts of the United States on the tour. Being from different areas, we were able to talk about the challenges we each face. That made for interesting conversations. Water Strategies and Rubicon organized the trip well and with an assortment of stops to see. The most important benefit of the trip for me was the one-on-one conversations I had with others on the tour and with the people at Rubicon. Kris Polly was a great host. I would definitely go again sometime on a tour of this nature.

Dale Cramer Board President, Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District

First and foremost, I must thank Kris Polly and Irrigation Leader magazine for a fabulous tour. This tour was well organized, informative, entertaining, and just down right fun! Most tourists would not comprehend or be able to keep up with our full-day, action-packed schedule. I also want to express my appreciation to Tony Oakes and Rubicon for the great hospitality and for giving us a real down under experience in learning about the historic, cultural, natural, and environmental resources of New South Wales, Australia. The tour was informative and light hearted, and in a down home Aussie fashion, Tony and our bus driver, Tim, kept us laughing and well entertained.

What interested me the most along the tour was the underlying similarities of the three major irrigation areas— Golburn-Murray, Coleambally, and Murrumbidgee—we visited and how they compared with irrigation districts in the western United States. I was most impressed with the advanced automation technology, canal lining efficiencies, and water management practices that were brought on by extreme drought conditions in Australia—conditions we now are facing again in the West. I believe there is a lot we can learn from Australia’s past drought experiences, which opens the door to further work-study programs and research opportunities through a collaboration between the Australians and American universities, along with further educational exchanges with the western irrigation districts.

The hardest thing for me to understand was their water rights administration. Trying to get my head around who owns the water, what the entitlement and allocation share of water is, and who determines the water allocation was a bit challenging, since everyone we spoke with explained it a little differently. Certainly the extreme drought conditions at the turn of the 21st century played a critical part in developing the water administration methodology that New South Wales now uses to control where the water is delivered. It was most impressive to understand how the state governments, the large municipalities, private irrigation companies, and ultimately, the farmers came together to address this Australian crisis. Rubicon was certainly in the right place at the right time to help develop the irrigation modernization plan that has focused on delivering irrigation infrastructure solutions, state-of-the-art gate automation technology, and canal lining construction design.

My board president, Robert Faubion, and I came back with a multitude of ideas on how we might begin to use some of the latest irrigation technology that we saw implemented on canals in Australia on our irrigation system. We have already made contact with an Australian researcher from the Murrumbidgee area who intends to visit our district later in the year to further develop his doctoral thesis on the effects of canal seepage. In the future, I would like the opportunity to expand a work-study program with my staff and the irrigation areas we visited. The kangaroo burrito I ate was interesting; it was the closest thing to Mexican food I found!

Gary Esslinger

Treasurer-Manager, Elephant Butte Irrigation District