Farmers say allocation change risks sweet future
There is outrage over WA Government threats to cut water allocations for farmers in the Ord Stage 1 agricultural region.
The WA Department of Water says it is looking at cutting over a third of water allocated for irrigated farming, as it is not being used.
But the chair of the Ord Irrigation Cooperative (OIC) David Menzel says the cuts are short-sighted, and could hurt the region's future water security.
“The state under its current polices wants us to agree to reduce it now and then we can apply for more water when we need it,” he told the ABC.
“If we talk to anyone on the east coast, that water never comes back. It will continue to be allocated and takes that level of risk to a much higher level.”
Water licenses for the OIC provide 335 gigalitres per year, or about 17 megalitres per hectare.
The government’s proposed new water allocations would cut the total to 225 gigalitres.
The Water Department says that since 2008, OIC farmers used less than 200 gigalitres per year, and in 2013 required just 142 gigalitres.
But some farmers are looking to set up water-thirsty sugar crops in the future, and say they need solid supplies to make it happen.
The OIC committee says even the existing level of 335 gigalitres may not cover future sugar crops, which require around 20-24 gigalitres per hectare.
“Threats to cut irrigation water for the critical Ord are outside current legislation and fly in the face of recent claims from WA Water Minister Mia Davies that government is not in the business of dictating criteria to irrigators and farmers,” Mr Menzel said.
“A lot of people have invested not just sweat and skill, but personal wealth and debt, into making the Ord development Australia's flagship remote irrigation area.
“The level of risk that is inherent in a reduction of 33 per cent in this allocation may transfer into any potential investors in the north and add that extra layer of difficulty to attracting new entrants into the market up here.”
The WA Water Minister said in a statement that farmers could apply for additional water in the future if needed, and that the department was in negotiations for a new 10-year licence which also allows more water in some circumstances.