Australian-Vietnamese Study Tour on Irrigation Service Pricing in Victoria and NSW

Rising concerns about water scarcity highlight the need for efficient use of water resources to meet the increasing demands of irrigated agriculture, urban development, and industrial requirements while preserving ecosystems. Water laws play a crucial role in ensuring efficient water usage, allowing governments to regulate extraction and prevent overuse while meeting changing societal needs. An essential element of water policy is full-cost recovery. It refers to the contribution from water users proportionate to the costs of the services they receive.  

AWP’s Sarah Ransom and Tanmay Singh accompanied a Vietnamese delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other government bodies, including the Department of Water Resources and Department of Price Management, as part of an RMCG-led activity focused on irrigation service pricing in late October 2023. The trip took participants through central Victoria and into New South Wales to explore key issues, challenges and solutions in irrigation and water pricing. AWP joined for two days of the trip, visiting Rochester and Bendigo in Victoria.  

Rochester Reuse Irrigation Scheme  

Starting in Rochestor, Northern Victoria, we visited the Rochester Reuse Irrigation Scheme, where we learnt about partnerships between public and private sectors in managing wastewater, particularly within agricultural areas. Fair distribution of benefits among stakeholders was a key point, with the effectiveness of the scheme dependent on balancing profitability and stakeholder satisfaction. Considering changes in land ownership, agricultural practices, and industries over time, the scheme’s design highlighted the importance of adaptability for ensuring long-term improvement in changing landscapes. We also learnt about the planning involved in infrastructure design, emphasising the significance of accurate dam sizing to prevent overflow issues and ensure the best performance. 

The Campaspe Scheme at Rochester showcased a unique model of private scheme operation within a government system. Discussions during our visit focused on pricing arrangements which encompass headworks costs, the Goulburn-Murray Water delivery system, and private distribution, offering insights into hybrid irrigation systems.  

A representative from TRILITY, the company managing the Campaspe Water Reclamation Scheme (CWRS), highlighted the benefits to local industry from reusing treated wastewater. CWRS treats 100 percent of wastewater generated by the communities of Echuca and Rochester, which then supplements irrigation on privately owned farms, contributing to an environmentally sustainable outcome. We were joined by Victorian MP Peter Walsh who shared the Australian experience in implementing irrigation service pricing while emphasising how accurate water pricing can ensure that both businesses and farmers benefit from the agricultural output produced.  

Dja Dja Wurrung and Indigenous fire practices 

Rob Rendell from RMCG shares his knowledge on Djandak Wi’s fire practice in Dja Dja Wurrung country.

The area surrounding Rochester and Bendigo is Dja Dja Wurrung land. Water holds profound cultural significance for the Dja Dja Wurrung community. It serves as a focal point for cultural practices, recognition and is an essential resource for sustaining their way of life. Recognising the significance of integrating indigenous knowledge in water management decisions, we visited the Dja Dja Wurrung community. Indigenous fire practices, specifically the Dja Dja Wurrung’s controlled “cool burns” during specific seasons, play a crucial role in land management. These burns reduce weeds, encourage native species’ return, and prevent devastating bushfires, while also supporting grass growth vital for kangaroos. 

Understanding Coliban Water’s operations: A window into urban-rural dynamics 

The following day we travelled to Bendigo where we gained valuable insights on irrigation service pricing development and operational issues at Coliban Water. The company’s scope spans urban water supply, wastewater management across the region, and oversight of storage, while irrigation represents a smaller fraction of their responsibilities. 

Coliban Water, explained the development of irrigation service pricing within the broader context of their operations. Their old irrigation system offered important learnings for cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, experiencing urban expansion into rural areas. 

Coliban Water Manager Damian Wells outlined the organisation’s twinning initiative with Phu Tho Water Supply Joint Stock Company. Supported by the Australian Water Partnership, this initiative focuses on mentoring and infrastructure development in Vietnam’s water supply sector. 

Discussions with the group at Coliban Water

We learnt about Coliban Water’s operations, including responses to severe droughts and how they have invested in modernising their  infrastructure to ensure climate resilience. 

Coliban Water has a diverse customer base, highlighting their challenges in cost-sharing between urban and rural areas, and offering insights into their strategies aimed at balancing fair pricing with sustainability. 

A key point from our visit was the necessity for continuous investment to avoid sudden price shocks and ensure sustained services. Their shared experiences underscored the importance of proactive measures to tackle evolving challenges. 

This visit was a part of the ADB and AWP-funded Irrigation Service Pricing Project aimed at supporting policy dialogue with relevant stakeholders of the Vietnamese government in implementing the Hydraulic Works Law and related Decrees on water charging or full cost recovery. The project reviews existing legal frameworks and methodologies related to irrigation services pricing while sharing Australian perspectives on water pricing with Vietnamese counterparts.  

To read more on water use efficiency and water pricing policies from an Australian perspective, please refer to our publication Water use efficiency in irrigated agriculture 

Featured image: Group picture at Rochester Reuse Scheme Company Source: AWP
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