Food and water for all

Deakin University collaboration to ensure the Werribee Plains remain a major food producing area for Victoria.

Deakin University is collaborating with the Department of Primary Industries and Southern Rural Water in undertaking a major project to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture on the Werribee Plains, one of Victoria's most important food producing areas.

The project is part of the Victorian Government's "Our Water, Our Future. Securing our water future together" program.

The Deakin research contribution will be lead by Dr Scott Salzman from the Faculty of Business and Law.

"This will be a major contributor to the Victorian Government's goals," Dr Salzman said.

"What we learn on the Werribee Plain can be used in other areas of the state.

"To ensure the long-term viability of agriculture on the Werribee Plains, logically the stakeholders need to know where and how much of the resources like recycled water, and low quality groundwater may be available.

"They also need to know who's using what where, how the resources are connected in the landscape, and how any connectivity may compound issues associated with the quality of these resources.

"In short, this project will identify the connections between irrigated farming systems in the Werribee Plains region with their surrounding landscape, and in particular underlying shallow groundwater."

The project will build on a preliminary survey undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries in 2007 that produced data suggesting that there is little saltwater intrusion into the Werribee Plains aquifers from Port Philip Bay.

However, this conflicts with existing evidence, and additional seasonal sampling of ground and surface waters is required to confirm these findings.

"What we propose is an expanded sampling of surface and ground water in the Werribee plains," Dr Salzman said.

"This began last month, incorporating private, state and water authority bores.

"Ground, surface and recycled water samples will be tested for a range of chemicals using standard water quality tests.

"We will also be using a novel mixture of tools to obtain a broad view of the connectedness of the water resources and irrigation scheduling."

Issues the project will address include:

  • What is the likelihood that groundwater is contaminated by recycled water?
  • Is there seawater or estuarine intrusion into coastal and riverside bores, or are salts entering from water upwelling from underlying aquifers (connate water) or downward transport from recycled water?
  • Are the assumptions made in current groundwater models adequate, and how might they be adjusted to assess connectivity in a water constrained, climate challenged future.

"The broad aim of this work is to develop an understanding the level of connectivity between the recycled water scheme on the Werribee plains and underlying aquifers," Dr Salzman said.

"The protocols for answering the above questions can be extended to other areas of urban and regional Victoria."

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