WATER WORRIES: Steve Hoffman with his newly installed low pressure centre pivot irrigation system.
WATER WORRIES: Steve Hoffman with his newly installed low pressure centre pivot irrigation system.

Fears for future if no decent rain in lowered dam

HAVING to play the long game is nothing new to those in the agricultural sector, and while this water year may have its “challenges”, it’s next year that John Russo and Steve Hoffmann are worried about.

Concerns from the two Bundaberg region irrigators were raised after SunWater released this water year’s allocations.

SunWater confirmed medium priority allocations for the Burnett River sub-scheme are at 70 per cent for the beginning of the 2020-21 water year.

While high priority water users in the Burnett sub-scheme and all water users in the Kolan sub-scheme would again have 100 per cent of their allocation.

The allocations at the beginning of the previous water year (2019-20) for the Burnett River sub-scheme were 71 per cent for medium priority and 100 per cent for high priority customers.

Medium priority allocations increased throughout the last water year and reached 100 per cent in February this year.

Mr Russo and Hoffmann said the impact of lowering the capacity of Paradise Dam, to 42 per cent while Essential Works were underway, was starting to be felt across the district.

Paradise Dam.
Paradise Dam.

“Everyone has been worried [about] what would happen to announced allocations once the dam level was lowered” Mr Russo, who grows sugarcane, peanuts and macadamias near Childers, said.

“Starting on 70 per cent allocation is certainly a challenge, but I’m more worried about next year.

“What will next year’s allocation be if we don’t have serious inflows into the dam?

“Many farmers in this region have young macadamia orchards.

“We’re all worried [about] how we will keep those trees alive and get them through to maturity.”

Mr Hoffmann, who grows sugarcane, peanuts and opportunity forage crops is concerned he won’t be able to plant opportunity crops in the future if the announced allocation becomes less reliable.

“It’s a double whammy at the moment” he said.

“We’re just been through 18 months of dry conditions, in fact, we’re currently drought declared in this region, and now the announced allocation is only 70 per cent.

“I’ve made large investments in water infrastructure over the last few years to improve water use efficiency on my farms.

“Now I can’t even be sure I will have water to put through it.”

Mr Hoffmann said there was going to be some tough decisions made around the district this irrigation season as growers prioritise which crops they irrigate and which crops they neglect.

He said it was not a future they expected when they leant Paradise Dam was going to be built.

The dam was built in 2005 to store water for irrigation and urban use rather than flood mitigation.

Having sustained some damaged in the 2013 floods, there have been concerns regarding the safety of the dam since late-last year which prompted the 5.8m reduction of the spillway and a Commission of Inquiry.

During the Bundaberg hearings of the inquiry farmers rallied outside the local courthouse, protesting the Essential Works and pleading for the dam to be saved.

WANT TO BE HEARD: Judy Plath at the Paradise Dam protest outside the Bundaberg Courthouse.
WANT TO BE HEARD: Judy Plath at the Paradise Dam protest outside the Bundaberg Courthouse.

Despite their efforts the works began in May.

“We thought a dam on the Burnett River would finally provide long term water security, but now everything is in doubt,” Mr Hoffmann said.

Mr Russo said he couldn’t believe the way the situation with the dam had been handled.

“We’d never see a dam in the South East corner of Queensland being lowered, so why is it happening here?,” he said.

“It almost feels like we’re being penalised for being outside the south east corner.

“Farmers just want to grow food for our state and our country, but we need reliable water in order to be able to do that.”

Mr Russo said he’s worried for the next generation, like his son, who “are facing so much uncertainty about water security now”.

A SunWater spokesperson said the allocations for 2020-21 have been maximised after SunWater, the Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy and customer representatives worked to secure a change to water-sharing rules.

“It is important to note allocations cannot decrease during the water year and will increase following inflows,” the spokesperson said.

“Allocations are calculated by SunWater based on formulas prescribed in each water supply scheme’s Resource Operations License.

“This considers – among other factors including evaporation and environmental flows – the total volume of water in a dam.

“The allocations for the next water year (2021-22) will be announced in July 2021.”

The spokesperson said Essential Works were progressing using a combination of concrete cutting techniques and excavators.

Rubble chutes have been installed to remove excavated material efficiently from the wall.

BUSINESS UNDERWAY: Works currently being undertaken at Paradise Dam.
BUSINESS UNDERWAY: Works currently being undertaken at Paradise Dam.

“Sunwater’s priority remains community safety, and the current works to lower the spillway will provide short-term risk reduction while a longer-term remediation of the dam is designed and implemented,” the spokesperson said.

“SunWater understands the importance of water security to the Bundaberg region and is doing all it can to ensure there is as much water available as possible for irrigators and the community.

“We continue to share project updates and engage with our customers and project stakeholders via the Community Reference Group and Burnett Catchment Industry Forum.”