Water deal questions remain

Water deal questions remain

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DETAILS surrounding the SA state government's multi-million water deal to help support interstate farmers have been slow to emerge, raising concerns the package will not benefit SA's drought-affected farmers.

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SEEKING SOLUTIONS: Omar Station's Marilyn and Mark Phillips are calling for the state government to prioritise SA farmers in the wake of their $98-million water deal.

SEEKING SOLUTIONS: Omar Station's Marilyn and Mark Phillips are calling for the state government to prioritise SA farmers in the wake of their $98-million water deal.

DETAILS surrounding the SA state government's multi-million water deal to help support interstate farmers have been slow to emerge, raising concerns the package will not benefit SA's drought-affected farmers.

In exchange for $98 million, including a $10m SA Drought Resilience Fund, the state government announced late last week it would increase operations at the Adelaide Desalination Plant, to supply water to Adelaide residents.

The first 40 gigalitres produced will be the same amount of River Murray water made available to southern Murray-Darling Basin irrigators upstream.

But Primary Producers SA chair Rob Kerin said there was "something missing" from the state and federal governments' water plan.

"There are a range of questions that I have not heard answers to, but we should know more in the near future," he said.

"We have given our opinion to the government about what we believe needs to happen with the drought fund, but industry needs to understand the money is about preparing for the next drought, not fixing this drought."

SA Water Minister David Speirs said details of the Drought Resilience Fund had not been decided.

"We just needed to make sure the additional $10m was part of the deal - it is too early to say what it will be used for," he said.

"This deal came at no cost to SA and the state government is not providing money for the deal.

"We are being paid to turn the desalination plant on.

"We had a lever we could pull. The federal government asked us to pull it and we did, but it could not be at any cost to us."

Mr Speirs also said it was a "once-off" deal, otherwise the state's water security would be in jeopardy.

"To keep the desalination plant going at this capacity in the future, it would have to be under different circumstances," he said.

"We are interested in utilising the plant more, but that is a conversation for down the track.

"Our water security will remain the same."

There will be a review in April to assess if a further 60GL will be redirected in the same manner.

Mr Speirs did not provide any further comment when contacted by Stock Journal.

State opposition water spokesperson Susan Close said greater assurance that SA would not be "worse off" was needed.

"The desalination plant is our water security insurance policy - it's not there to bail out upstream governments from approving water efficiency projects," she said.

"SA needs to know it will not be exposed to water restrictions if a hotter-than-usual summer arrives."

Omar Station's Mark Phillips has ceased supplying mains water to 25 water troughs because of "crippling" costs on his 10,000-hectare property between Morgan and Burra.

After just 50 millimetres of rain fell on the Florieton property last year, Mr Phillips was forced to resurrect a non-functioning bore.

"If you put a cost on fixing the bore, it would be $10,000," he said.

"If water can be supplied at a lower cost interstate through the deal, it can be supplied at the same rate for us."

Mr Phillips did not think the water deal would be used to help support SA farmers.

"They will blow it on running the desalination plant and not a cent will go to supporting SA's drought-affected farmers," he said.

Mr Phillips also said farmers were battling more than water cost-related issues.

"I pay up to $10,000 a year for council rates and I pay mains water supply charges for taps I do not turn on - this is what's hurting us," he said.

"Most farmers who have heavily destocked are also being hit with huge tax bills.

"The state government has failed to address that the same farmer who makes a higher wage than usual in one year, will also be without an income for the next two to three years - it's ludicrous."

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The story Water deal questions remain first appeared on Stock Journal.

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