IRRIGATION A $1 BILLION PROJECT
The rollout of irrigation schemes has transformed many Tasmanian regions, but the state’s farmer body is querying how they are managed. Roger Hanson reports
We are comfortable we can deliver on all water entitlements NICOLA MORRIS
WITH almost $1 billion invested in irrigation schemes across the state so far, the focus of the State Government business running them is moving from construction to management.
Tasmanian Irrigation is in transition from overseeing one of the state’s biggest infrastructure developments to facilitating irrigation benefits.
TI chief executive Nicola Morris says she has a passion for agriculture and looking into what irrigation can do for Tasmania.
“It’s my role that we provide irrigation water so that irrigation can be a cost-effective tool for farmers to use,” Ms Morris said.
She said total investment, including the publicly owned infrastructure and private onfarm investment, would be around the $1 billion mark.
Ms Morris said this investment would grow Tasmania’s agricultural future.
The 19 schemes are divided into 10 tranche-one schemes with capacity to supply more than 74,000ML a year across 133,000ha. Five tranche-two schemes can supply 26,000ML across 66,000ha.
The largest scheme in the Midlands has cost $104 million and is providing 38,500ML annually to 55,000ha of irrigable area. A key feature is an integrated hydro-power station at the base of the Western Tiers with the capacity to produce enough power up to 10,000 homes a year.
TI works with private landholders to work out how much water is wanted and shares the cost of building a scheme between the public and the private sector.
TI owns the assets to the point of delivery with farmers investing in their own on-farm infrastructure and in buying water entitlements.
Each scheme has an expected life of 100 years.
The water entitlements issued by TI are tradable within the district. Water entitlements are separate from land, so a person does not need to own land to own water rights. .
Ms Morris said a key issue now was the state going into a challenging dry season.
“We are comfortable we can deliver on 100 per cent of water entitlements. The exception is the Swan scheme which is yet to be commissioned,” she said.
TI was established in 2008 and merged with the former Rivers and Water Supply Commission and Tasmanian Irrigation Schemes in 2011.
From the mergers the new organisation also inherited op-
eration of four schemes and five water-supply and river improvement schemes It also oversees two schemes under self-management.
Ms Morris said for a scheme to proceed it must be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and supported by the community it will serve.
“TI has to be cost effective and responsive,” she said.
Recently the state’s peak farmer body raised the issue of the schemes being handed over to locals to manage once built and questioned how the schemes are run.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight with revelation the Sassafras Wesley Vale scheme was $200,00 in the red.
Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association president Wayne Johnston said Ms Morris had met the TFGA board and explained operations and the checks and balances built into costs needed to run the schemes.
“It was a good open and frank discussion. We will need to continue our discussion about returning schemes to farmers to run,” Mr Johnston said.
Ms Morris said managing the schemes carried responsibilities.
“It’s worth noting twothirds of funds for the schemes is public money. With that come additional accountabilities, including environmental monitoring.”
Ms Morris said there was ongoing dialogue to resolve the issues in the Sassafras and Wesley Vale scheme.
Ms Morris said TI’s variable costs of delivering water had gone up on average of 12 per cent in the past 12 months.
She said those costs, such as energy, had been kept down through her organisation’s negotiating power.
“We’ve gone from build phase and are moving into communication phase.
“It’s about TI being responsive and we are listening. And certainly there have been some really solid discussions over the cost of water, what level of service irrigators want, even what level of water reliability they want.”
She said the irrigators committees of individual schemes were there to communicate seasonal and operational issues.
TI’s latest scheme to be fully commissioned is the Southern Highlands Scheme. Ms Morris said it would have adequate water at the start of the irrigation season on November 1.
On the East Coast, the Swan scheme is waiting for rain to be commissioned.
Ms Morris said TI had engaged with landowners and assumed responsibility for the role of a previous contractor.
“We are comfortable there will be adequate water for agreed supply come December 1,” she said.
The Duck River Scheme in Circular Head is under construction while North Esk and Scottsdale schemes are waiting for funding approval.
Ms Morris said TI had identified eight concepts for future irrigation schemes it believed would warrant further investigation.