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The health of the Macalister River and Gippsland Lakes will receive a boost with the Brumby Government creating a new legal entitlement for environmental flows.
The new environmental entitlement means the Macalister River will receive 8.1 billion litres of water a year on average, saved from irrigation upgrade works completed so far.
This $28 million project, jointly funded by the Australian Government ($20 million), and the Victorian Government's Victorian Water Trust ($8 million), is being managed by Southern Rural Water.
Water Minister Tim Holding, who visited Glenmaggie Weir today, said the new entitlement formalises the volume of water that will be set aside each year for the Macalister River. More savings will be added to the entitlement as the project is completed.
"Victoria's rivers, such as the Macalister River, have been under enormous stress following 13 years of drought so providing a secure legal entitlement for environmental water flows will improve and maintain the river's health.
"This water will be released by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority at optimal times to benefit the environment.
"Having a healthy Macalister River and Gippsland Lakes is so important to the local community, particularly the tourism industry."
Mr Holding also today assisted local authorities to release environmental water already being set aside from the irrigation upgrades under interim arrangements.
"This project has already provided more than seven billion litres in water savings for release into the Macalister River this autumn and winter," he said.
"More than three billion litres of this water was released in May, and today we are releasing another three billion litres to further enhance water quality, maintain river frontage and in-stream vegetation, and protect one of the region's iconic native fish species, the Australian grayling."
The $28 million Macalister Irrigation District Channel Automation Project is upgrading irrigation systems with channel automation technology, including new regulators and flume gates, to reduce water losses from outfalls and improve service levels for irrigators.
Australian Government, Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Dr Mike Kelly said the project is a great example of a working partnership between the Australian and Victorian Governments and Southern Rural Water.
"Supporting healthy rivers, waterways and wetlands is a key focus under the Australian Government's Water for the Future initiative," Dr Kelly said.
"This project, on completion, has the potential to deliver up to a total of 15 billion litres of water savings annually to the Macalister and Thomson Rivers which flow into the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar wetland listed site.
"To be able to provide water to the environment using savings made through irrigation infrastructure upgrades is a great achievement and of mutual benefit to both irrigators and the environment."
Mr Holding said irrigators were already seeing the benefits of irrigation upgrades.
"Victoria is investing in replacing manually operated regulators and outlets with automated gates which continuously respond to changes in demand within the system," he said.
"This improved efficiency reduces the water lost from the system, leading to water savings, and also provides irrigators with a higher level of service.
"Service benefits to irrigators include reducing the lead time to order water from three days to one day and the ability to receive higher flow rates."