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