Wa­ter re­quired

Gatton Star - - YOUR SAY -

WE NEED to get real in our search for ad­di­tional ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter for the Lock­yer Val­ley. The re­cent Lock­yer Council fea­si­bil­ity study led to the es­tab­lish­ment of a col­lab­o­ra­tive group drawn from the Lock­yer and Som­er­set coun­cils, along with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of some wa­ter users. This formed a pur­pose­ful group, fo­cused en­tirely on a need for ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter.

The next step is to pre­pare a busi­ness case. At an es­ti­mated cost of $1.3 mil­lion, this is not a triv­ial task. It should ad­dress the needs of all our dif­fer­ent farm busi­nesses. De­spite re­cent hor­ti­cul­ture pub­lic­ity, only half of the Val­ley in­come de­rives from veg­etable farm­ing. One third of the in­come comes from live­stock pro­duc­tion. Only one quar­ter of cur­rently ir­ri­gated farm­land is used for veg­eta­bles. To grow more ve­g­ies, we could just swap other ir­ri­ga­tion farms over to prof­itable veg­etable crops. Well not re­ally, changes like that can be dif­fi­cult for in­di­vid­ual farm­ers.

How much wa­ter can we hope for? The re­cent so­cioe­co­nomic study fore­cast $600 mil­lion ex­tra in­come and 1500 new jobs, but it is based on get­ting an ex­tra 100 gi­gal­itres of wa­ter each year for the Val­ley. The fea­si­bil­ity study shows that this is just not go­ing to hap­pen. At most only 60 gi­gal­itres of re­cy­cled wa­ter is avail­able, and our three lit­tle dams (Claren­don, Dyer and Atkin­sons) can only store 60 gi­gal­itres from a spo­radic Wiven­hoe sup­ply, with one third of that evap­o­rat­ing each year.

How do we use the wa­ter? All the dis­cus­sion has been about sup­ply­ing Cen­tral and Lower Lock­yer, where ground­wa­ter was pumped dry be­fore 1980. Re­cently, veg­etable farm­ers there have been un­der­stand­ably alarmed by ap­par­ently nec­es­sary plans to limit ground­wa­ter ex­trac­tion to sus­tain­able lev­els. Whichever way we dis­trib­ute wa­ter to farms, in­fra­struc­ture costs of $200 mil­lion or more can only be met from state or fed­eral gov­ern­ment funds. So it ap­pears that Up­per Lock­yer farm­lands must de­pend long-term on nat­u­ral ground­wa­ter sources.

So what do we do? The col­lab­o­ra­tive needs money just for the busi­ness case, which should clearly ex­plore the de­mand for ad­di­tional wa­ter, and the best way to ac­cess it. It is dis­ap­point­ing that their web­site fea­tures only one of the six rea­son­able ac­cess op­tions. It is dis­ap­point­ing, too, that so few farm­ers are di­rectly in­volved in de­ci­sion mak­ing. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them is a chal­lenge.

Here is the re­al­ity. We need wa­ter, badly. The col­lab­o­ra­tive is our or­gan­iser. We have only one chance to get it right, so check with ev­ery­body. Don’t get be­hind them, get be­side them.

— B. Fi­foot, Gat­ton

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