Irrigation began in the South West region of Western Australia when the Harvey Agricultural Area, settled in the 1890s, was selected for government sponsored irrigation. The Harvey Weir was completed in 1916 with a view to supplying good volumes of water to 40 000 hectares of irrigable land. Citrus orchards had been established earlier producing fruit for export to the United Kingdom. Flooding and waterlogging were a problem in the early years and a main drain had been constructed in the early 1900s relieving flooding by taking water to the lower Harvey River.
Unemployment relief workers in the depression years of the 1930s provided the labour for irrigation works in the Collie River and Waroona Districts, and for the construction of the Harvey River Diversion Drain. "...dams were given substance; channels were progressively lined in concrete; paddocks were systematically graded; and struggling orchards continued to give way to irrigated dairy properties." (Powell, 1998)
By the 1940s the area served by irrigation had expanded north into the Shire of Waroona and south into the Shire of Dardanup. Currently there is a total operating area of about 39 000 hectares with some 674 irrigation properties in three districts. Waroona District operating area is 5,500 ha of which 1,500 ha are irrigated Harvey District operating area is 17,016 ha of which 5,505 ha are irrigated and the Collie River District operating area is 16,608 ha of which 4,930 ha are irrigated.
Work started on a piped scheme in the late 1970s and by the end of the 1980s some of the original irrigation area in central Harvey was served by a piped irrigation supply at a cost of over $11 million. Ironically, the government's adviser in 1915 had rejected local proposals for a piped scheme because of the cost.
From 1914 to 1996 the irrigation scheme was built, owned and managed by the State government through its agencies: the Public Works Department, later the Water Authority of WA and then the Water Corporation.
As a result of reviews of the operation of the scheme and Council of Australian Governments (COAG 1992) reforms on water management, the system was ceded to South West Irrigation – an irrigator-owned cooperative which took over ownership of the assets and management in 1996.
A dual cooperative business structure was selected to provide security for the assets, worth about $70 million to replace in 1995. This means the business is owned by a management cooperative (South West Irrigation Management Cooperative or SWIMCO) and the assets by a separate asset mutual cooperative (South West Irrigation Asset Cooperative or SWIAC).
This structure also enabled the ownership of entitlement to water to be separated from the land title, allowing water to be traded separately to the land. Irrigators own water in the form of shares in the cooperative plus a corresponding certificate of water entitlement.
In forming the cooperative, irrigators accepted that they should pay for the upkeep of the infrastructure that provided a direct benefit to them. Only three irrigators chose not to join the cooperative.
In July 2002 the trading name —South West Irrigation— was changed to Harvey Water to enable better recognition both here, in the Eastern States and overseas. The new name resonates with the brand naming of other agricultural businesses in the district.
Powell, JM. 1998 Watering the Western Third: Water, Land and Community in Western Australia, 1826-1998. Water and Rivers Commisssion, Perth.