‘Illegal flood’ hits Toobeah farmers

Toobeah farmers 'flooded out of business'


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Toobeah farmers say they are being flooded out of business as the direct result of what they say are illegal structures constructed across the floodplain.

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RUINED: Toobeah farmers Bruce Lamey and his son Chris have lost $2 million crops as a result of flooding they say is the direct result of the construction of illegal structures used to capture irrigation water on the floodplain.

RUINED: Toobeah farmers Bruce Lamey and his son Chris have lost $2 million crops as a result of flooding they say is the direct result of the construction of illegal structures used to capture irrigation water on the floodplain.

LAST year Toobeah farmers Bruce Lamey and his son Chris lost a $1.4 million chickpea crop. Right now it looks like a $250,000 cotton crop will also be a write-off.

And while crop-destroying flooding may be one of the risks of farming on the fertile Macintyre River floodplain west of Goondiwindi, the Lameys say the long-lasting flooding is the direct result of illegal structures being deliberately constructed by irrigators to harvest water. 

They say the ingeniously designed earthworks are being used to control and stall the movement of floodwaters across a critical section of the Murray Darling Basin.

The then-backed up overland flow is being pumped in massive earth storage tanks and later used to grow cotton.

The problem for the Lameys is that the artificial sea of water has created prolonged flooding across much of their 2000 hectare dryland farming property, Coomonga, including their access road. 

“The system has failed us,” Bruce Lamey said. “No-one in Queensland should have the power to turn illegal structures into legal structures. Just because the work is done gradually, it does not make it legal.

Water banked up behind a raised road on the floodplain, blocking access to Coomonga and drowning valuable crops.

Water banked up behind a raised road on the floodplain, blocking access to Coomonga and drowning valuable crops.

“It seems that under the government’s self assessment rules, irrigators can put earthworks up and then ask the governing body for approval after it’s done.

“But even if it's illegal it seems no-one has the power to actually make them pull them down.”

Mr Lamey said the loss of the crops will have a dramatic impact on the family’s farm business.

“These illegal earthworks have turned our farm into an unusable asset. It's just sickening,” Mr Lamey said.

A road or a levy and irrigation channel?

A road or a levy and irrigation channel?

“We all understand that it floods as part of the natural system. But the flood water should be allowed to escape in reasonable time and be available to everyone else on the river system.

These illegal earthworks have turned our farm into an unusable asset. - Toobeah farmer Bruce Lamey

“It shouldn’t be allowed to be managed so it can be backed up on our farm so it can be later pumped in to storages by irrigators.”

The Lameys are particularly critical of a gravel-topped road that had been constructed well above the surface of the floodplain.

“The road may be used by vehicles but it is really a very effective, and we think illegal, levy.

The Lamey's flooded cotton crop.

The Lamey's flooded cotton crop.

“A channel has even been created where the ground has been pushed up to increase the height of the road,” Bruce Lamey said.

“It’s all pretty obvious that a major purpose of this road is to direct water to pumping stations and into storage tanks.”   

Next door at Glentown it’s a very different story. Richard Donovan and his son Rick’s 4200ha property is in the grips of an extreme drought because they have been denied beneficial floodwater.

The Donovans say given the heights of the recent floodwaters at the Goondiwindi monitoring station, much of Glentown should have been inundated, leaving a good body of feed going into winter and sufficient in-ground moisture to plant dryland winter crops. 

Richard and Rick Donovan, Glentown, Toobeah, say they have also missed out on beneficial flooding because of illegal structures built across the floodplain.

Richard and Rick Donovan, Glentown, Toobeah, say they have also missed out on beneficial flooding because of illegal structures built across the floodplain.

Instead, they have been forced into a high risk strategy of planting crops into dry earth and are watching cattle die on the deeply cracked, black clay country. 

The Donovans say water gates managed by irrigators have been used to selectively redirect water through the region’s creek systems to enhance the water harvesting opportunities for irrigators. 

“Water is our lifeblood,” Rick Donovan said. “Creeks should not be used as irrigation channels. When there is a swimming pool on one side and it’s as dry as this on the other, then clearly something is going wrong.” 

Goondiwindi real estate agent Henry Leonard, who also owns country in the affected area, said he remained neutral on the management of the floodplain, saying the grazing and irrigation industries needed to coexist.

While the Lamey's property Coomonga is inundated with floodwater, the adjoining property Glentown is suffering extreme drought.

While the Lamey's property Coomonga is inundated with floodwater, the adjoining property Glentown is suffering extreme drought.

“But any illegal structures that exist do need to be removed. That’s only fair,” Mr Leonard said. “We don’t need the division in the community that this issue is creating.”

Goondiwindi Regional Council mayor Graeme Scheu said council was expecting to be presented with modelling in July that would detailing how the structures interacted with water flows on the floodplain.

The results of that independent study would be part of an assessment to determine whether or not the structures could be approved, needed to be adapted or required to be removed, he said.

Cr Scheu said council was working with the Department of Natural Resources on what was proving a particularly challenging issue given the complexity of the floodplain and limited resources available to council.

The modelling had been scheduled to be presented this month. However, a three month extension had been granted, he said. 

The story ‘Illegal flood’ hits Toobeah farmers first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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