Skip to main content

Two-pronged choke strangles Murray Darling Basin’s water trade

15 June 2022

Irrigators are scrambling to get water through the Barmah Choke and out of the Goulburn Valley, under new rules and deadlines.

A massive wave of demand is building behind two critical choke points in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, as irrigators scramble to get their water through either the Barmah Choke or out of the Goulburn Valley.

Irrigators are jostling to get as much of the 600 gigalitres of unused water they carried over from this season into the next out of the Goulburn Valley and into the Murray River, where it can be sold for a premium, once trade opens on July 1.

But the Victorian Government has not only restricted the initial trade out of the Goulburn to 85GL, but told irrigators and brokers the market will not open until 2pm, well after the state’s Northern Resource Manager Mark Bailey allocates up to another 700GL to irrigators.

“They’ll all be trying to get a big chunk of that 1300GL of water through an 85GL hole,” one broker said.

The Victorian Government has put the water market in even greater turmoil by waiting until May 24 to announce it would open up its register to trade through the Barmah Choke at midnight on the eve of June 30, rather than 10am on July 1.

Up until now nearly all choke trade has gone through the NSW register, which last year opened about three hours ahead of Victoria and reached the 40GL limit within minutes.

But the Victorian decision now means individual and corporate irrigators who spent up to $80 a megalitre to lease and park water on above-choke NSW general security entitlements have blown their money.

“We know someone who leased a large volume of general security at $80 a meg a day before the (Victorian Government’s May 24) announcement,” one broker said. “They’ve thrown away a very large sum”.

“There will be a lot of Victorians, not just those in NSW, burnt by this.”


Even if WaterNSW opened its register for trade at midnight its officers, who must manually process trades lodged via email, are no match for brokers using the Victorian register’s online portal that automatically processes trades.

In the meantime, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has announced the net annual trade out of the Goulburn will be limited to 150GL, compared a rolling balance of 200GL that has been in place since 2012.