Depleted dam will run irrigation dry
Farmers face axe on water
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.