Securing water for the Wimmera River has ensured a positive future for surrounding regions.

Story John Dunn  Photo Lynton Brown

On the slopes of Mt Cole in the Great Dividing Range near Elmhurst in Victoria’s west, the Wimmera River begins its unique journey. It’s the state’s only major waterway that is not linked to the sea. It flows almost 300km north towards the Mallee and the hot, dry, often parched interior until it reaches – sometimes – Lake Hindmarsh, the largest, natural freshwater lake in the state. Hindmarsh itself is mostly empty. Its substantial 22km by 7km area is usually too much to fill without a couple of substantial floods.

The river’s winding route, through areas of low rainfall and hot summer temperatures, breathes life into the towns and grain-growing districts that lie in its path. This has been brought about by one of Australia’s largest water infrastructure projects, which involved replacing the area’s original channel distribution system with a massive pipeline network. It saves, on average – from evaporation and seepage – an extraordinary 103 billion litres of water annually, 83 billion litres of which now dramatically augments the river systems of the Wimmera, Glenelg, Goulburn and Avon-Richardson.

The project cost nearly $700 million, which was shared between the Federal and Victorian governments, and the region’s farmers and water corporation, GWMWater, which remains in charge of pipeline delivery. “The advantages of the pipeline are many and include the social benefits of the community having access to recreational and environmental water, the economic benefits resulting from farmers being confident of a high-quality water supply and the environmental benefits associated with a healthy Wimmera River and its tributaries,” the corporation’s managing director Mark Williams says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #138

Outback Magazine: August/September 2021