De­pleted dam will run ir­ri­ga­tion dry

Farm­ers face axe on wa­ter

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - JOHN AN­DER­SEN john. an­der­sen@ news. com. au

THE taps sup­ply­ing Bur­dekin farm­ers with ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter will be turned off next year if the al­ready low Bur­dekin Dam falls to 30 per cent ca­pac­ity.

Af­ter two failed wet sea­sons the dam is at 72 per cent ca­pac­ity and will con­tinue to fall as the “big­gest drought on record” moves to­wards the warmer months of Oc­to­ber, Novem­ber and De­cem­ber.

Another failed wet sea­son could see the dam fall to crit­i­cally low lev­els in 2016. Alarm bells are al­ready ring­ing in the Bris­bane head­quar­ters of the state- owned bulk wa­ter sup­plier, Sunwater.

The wa­ter util­ity last week slashed ir­ri­ga­tion al­lo­ca­tions across the Bur­dekin farm­lands to 63 per cent. A Sunwater spokesper­son said it was the low­est al­lo­ca­tion on record.

The move will have a di­rect im­pact on the es­ti­mated 300 chan­nel ir­ri­ga­tors, but the bal­ance of the Bur­dekin’s 600 cane farm­ers will all ex­pe­ri­ence hard­ship when un­der­ground sup­plies, nor­mally re­plen­ished via the Bur­dekin River from wa­ter feed­ing down from the dam, be­gin to drop.

Farm­ers who ir­ri­gate from un­der­ground re­serves man­aged by Lower Bur­dekin Wa­ter are in a worse po­si­tion than col­leagues who take wa­ter from open chan­nels.

Lower Bur­dekin Wa­ter ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer David Sar­tori said his farm­ers were on the 63 per cent al­lo­ca­tion – but in ef­fect it was re­duced to 50 per cent af­ter losses through eva­po­ra­tion and leak­age.

The axe hang­ing over farm­ers is the worst case and a very real sce­nario if the dam falls to 30 per cent ca­pac­ity. If El Nino con­di­tions con­tinue to build and dam lev­els go into the “red”, wa­ter to grow­ers would be turned off to guar­an­tee do­mes­tic sup­ply for Townsville, Ayr and Home Hill.

Bur­dekin Cane­grow­ers di­rec­tor Arthur Woods de­scribed it as a “scary fact of life”. Mr Woods said farm­ers would be in peril and pro­duc­tiv­ity would be threat­ened if the al­lo­ca­tion was main­tained at 63 per cent.

Mr Woods said the sit­u­a­tion now faced by farm­ers re­in­forced the need for the State and Fed­eral Gov­ern­ments to pro­ceed with Stage Two of the Bur­dekin Dam. “It’s been a no­brainer for at least 20 years that the dam wall should be lifted, but none of the politi­cians will touch it,” he said.

Bur­dekin River Ir­ri­ga­tion Area as­so­ci­a­tion man­ager Russ McNee said, “There is a like­li­hood the 63 per cent fig­ure could be re­vised and in­creased marginally to 70 per cent by the end of July.”

The Bur­dekin Dam.

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