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Life Blood of the Lachlan

Written by Ted Morgan, Jemalong Irrigation

The first part of the Lachlan story takes us up to the 1920’s covering the indigenous beginning and the early settlement of the Europeans. The story continues here with a history about the development of the Lachlan from 1928 to the present day. It has progressed from a region that could not reliably support river towns, farms or decentralisation, thereby creating a barrier to progress in this western area. It is now a vibrant, productive and diverse valley reliably supporting towns, agriculture and industry.

A Drought Affected No Flow Lachlan River

Severe droughts are a recurring feature of inland NSW that resulted in an unreliable water supply for towns and farmers

Historical records show the following

  • -111 days in 1908 at Cowra

  • Longest period at Forbes of 224 days between Dec 1898 and July 1899

  • 228 days at Booligal from Dec 1919 to July 1920

  • Major droughts occurred in 1902,1917,1924,1937/38,1940-45,1968,1982/83,1994. Could add the Millenium drought of 2002-10 and 2017/18 to this 1997 report by the Dept Land & Water Conservation

- Secure water supplies from the Lachlan were essential for the region to grow and sustain towns, farms and their livestock

Source: Dept Land and Water Conservation “Lachlan Catchment State of the Rivers Report – 1997”

Wyangala Dam

The Lachlan River rises near Yass and flows over 600km and terminates at the Great Cumbung Swamp with an average annual flow of 1,160,000 megalitres (ml) and annual flows from 520% to 4% of the average (Sydney Harbour holds 500,000ml)

Current capacity in 2 construction phases

Started 1928 and finished 1935

Capacity 370,000 megalitres

Enlarged 1969

Capacity 1,217,000 megalitres

Source: Water NSW


Image Courtesy of of the WATER NSW

Who gets the water?

The Pie chart below shows that on average 80% of the available water goes to the river environment including sustaining river flows for towns and farms, environmental allowances and environmental allocations.

The remaining 20% (HS 74,104ml; GS 592,801ml) goes to Consumptive Users as defined below.

High Security (HS) water is 97% reliable in the following categories:

  • Town Water Supplies: Cowra, Forbes, Condobolin and Lake Cargelligo now have reliable access to Lachlan river water supplies – highest priority and has not failed

  • Stock and Domestic: for farm house and livestock along the river

  • High Security generally for orchards, vineyards and vegetables


General Security (GS) water is 42% reliable and used mostly for broadacre irrigation eg wheat, canola, lucerne, cotton and maize. The NSW and Commonwealth Governments hold the largest Lachlan GS water entitlement of 123,492ml plus HS of 2728ml – 19% of available water entitlement


What is produced?

Latest figures 2015/16

Vegetables, cotton and fruit are the 3 top earners every year

Vegetables             $71,960,007

Cotton                   $50,171,842

Fruit and nuts         $34,714,066

Hay                         $15,997,172

Cereals                   $13,041,339

Sheep & livestock $11,697,919

Meat cattle             $10,064,286

Dairy                     $8,288,990

Total                     $222,326,969 (including a number of smaller contributors)

Source: ABS Gross Value of Irrigated Agriculture

Jemalong Irrigation

Jemalong and Wyldes Plains Irrigation District (JWPID)established by the NSW Government in 1941. Jemalong Weir construction commenced in 1936. Purpose is to divert water by gravity fed irrigation for stock production and domestic use.

In 1941 the channel system connected 81 farms and in 1951 further subdivisions were created via the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Additional financial assistance was given for fencing, land clearing, erection of buildings and items necessary for the occupation and development of the land. (Source: Wikipedia Soldier Settlement Australia)

JWPID was privatised by the NSW Government in 1995 and Jemalong Irrigation Ltd (JIL) was established.

JIL is the largest single water entity on the Lachlan:

  • 80,000ml Entitlement

  • 95 shareholder/customers

  • 40,000ml average use

  • Employs 5 staff

  • 325 km of channels

  • Managed by a Board of 7 Directors

  • Regulated by the Water Management Act

  • Regulated by the Environmental Protection Act

Crops grown include:

  • Wheat, canola and winter fodder crops

  • Cotton, maize and rice

  • Lucerne, millet and summer fodder crops

  • Diversified plantings including jojobas and trees




Photo courtesy of CHARLIE FRENCH


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