Time to brace for less water

By Geoff Adams

LANCASTER DAIRY farmer Kelvin Bruce has predicted a grim outlook for northern Victorian irrigators unless they’re properly armed for a future with less water.

Mr Bruce said Goulburn Murray Irrigation District landowners should be positioned to make the most of the upgraded delivery system.

“We have the best irrigation system in the world but currently we are not getting the best out of it,” Mr Bruce said.

“We often have visiting tour groups from all over the world coming to see our irrigation system.”

He said the region had a gravity-fed network with complementary drainage system which was being upgraded through the Connections program, and more on-farm improvements would better capitalise on the system.

“We require support for on-farm improvements which don’t involve further loss of water from the region, and help realigning the irrigation footprint to more closely match water availability,” he said.

Past on-farm efficiency funding programs had excluded farms which were not on the backbone channels, but this had penalised good farmers who were wanting to invest, Mr Bruce said.

He said now that the Connections program was further progressed and it was clearer which channels would be maintained, it was time to open up the program to more irrigators.

Upgraded farms were using new technologies to use less water with better flow rates and with less labor, Mr Bruce said, but farms not on the backbone were being excluded from these advantages. And with some irrigators excluded from the upgrades there was a danger of pushing out those irrigators.

“The fewer we have on the system the more costs we all have to bear.”

The requirement to give up water in the water efficiency programs also worked against the best interests of irrigators in this region, Mr Bruce said.

Mr Bruce, who has been vocal about his position that no more water leaves the region, said it was crucial a co-ordinated approach was adopted between on-farm and off-farm system changes that targeted reduced Goulburn-Murray Water assets.

“What we need is a consistent regional direction to allow the GMID to transition to a future with less water. A vision for the future that we all agree on with input from all stakeholders — government, industry and community.”

Mr Bruce was adamant there needed to be closer examination of the social and environmental impacts of continued water trade to regions outside the GMID.

“It is clear to me that after this current season, we need proper analysis of the risks involved with high volumes of water transferring through the river systems to meet downstream demands,” he said.

“We need strong leadership and a clear path forward if we are to remain competitive in a future with less water.”

Mr Bruce called for continued investment from government to upgrade farm irrigation infrastructure.

“Feasibility analysis shows the investment stacks up economically and provides flow-on benefits to the regional community and environment as well.”