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

Tasmanian Country - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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