Irrigation in the South East Region of South Australia

The South East region of South Australia is an area of some 2.35 million hectares in a line south of Coonalpyn, Tintinara, Keith and Bordertown.

The South East is the largest, by area, of the irrigation areas in South Australia with around 55 450 hectares of land irrigated in 2008–09. Of this area 54% is applied to pasture and hay crops, 20% to vines and 5% to potatoes.

The volume of water extracted for irrigation is around 277 GL with 59% applied via centre pivot and lateral move systems, a further 12% by other forms of spray irrigation, 18% by drip systems and 11% by flood irrigation.

The area has progressively expanded to current areas, initially as a result of drainage and latterly due to irrigation from underground aquifers. The primarily underground water resource is generally extracted to the maximum sustainable amount and expansion of irrigated agriculture can only occur through more efficient irrigation methods.

The volumes extracted and crops irrigated will vary a little from season to season.

The contribution of irrigated agriculture and forestry to the South East region is outlined in a report prepared by Primary Industries and Regions SA, South East of South Australia Regional Profile October 2010 (PDF 1.4 MB) .

Detailed water allocation plans are prepared by the South East Natural Resources Management Board for the following areas:

  • Lower Limestone Coast
  • Padthaway
  • Tatiara
  • Tintinara - Coonalpyn
  • Morambro Creek.

These plans provide a comprehensive overview of the sustainability of the water resource, levels of irrigation extraction and protection of environmental assets and can be accessed at

Prior to development the region was dominated by wetlands. Agricultural production and associated value adding industries expanded quickly once the region was drained, commencing over 150 years ago. The attached paper, History of the South East Drainage System (DOCX 981.5 KB), provides an excellent summary of the stages of construction of this system and the impact drainage has had on productivity.

Author: Don Plowman
Contributors: Staff of Primary Industries and Regions SA and Environment, Water and Natural Resources
Date: July 2014

Page Last Reviewed: 20 Nov 2017
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