Irrigators face a nervous wait for the new water year, after dam-replenishing rainfall failed to fall in Tinaroo Dam this past wet season.
With the far north’s wet all but over, the level of Tinaroo Dam – Queensland’s oldest large irrigation storage - sits at a precarious 50.9 per cent.
In November 2016, the dam recorded its lowest capacity in 11 years, 38.7 pc.
A Sunwater spokeswoman said while it was too early for Sunwater to provide any certainty around the announced allocation percentages for the 2018 water year, modelling suggested allocations could be between 45 and 65 pc.
The announced allocation last dropped as low as 65 pc in 2003.
“SunWater customers can estimate the predicted announced allocation at the start of the water year using the allocation prediction graph available on the SunWater website,” the spokeswoman said.
“There are a number of variables that could impact the dam level – and ultimately the announced allocation - including water level decrease from customer orders and evaporation/seepage, or dam level increases from rainfall and inflows.
“A forecast storage model is available on our website to help customers estimate what the storage level might be at the start of the new water year, based on minimum or average inflows; however these levels are only indicative.
“Using the forecast storage model as a guide, the predicted announced allocation could be anywhere between 45 - 65 per cent for medium priority allocations and 100 per cent for high priority allocations.”
Sugar cane growers are the biggest water user in the district, although avocados and bananas are also high users.
Mareeba Dimbulah Irrigation Council chair Joe Moro said many farmers were pessimistic about the future water year.
He said the pessimism was flowing into the business community.
“It doesn’t look like we will get much rain up until July, and we missed out on any rain from tropical Cyclone Debbie so a lot of farmers are very pessimistic,” Mr Moro said.
“There is a lot of concern out there but not just farmers, it has flowed out into the community as well.
“The dam is trending to be at a lower starting point than last year, so there is a bit more concern.”
Mr Moro said inflows into the dam would hinge on what rain the area received between now and July.
“Unfortunately the long-term forecast for rain is not very favourable either but no-one can really say what the inflows will be over the 12 months starting July 1 either,” Mr Moro said.
“There is a lot of concern and lot of pessimism and I think that will flow through the economy of the region because farmers will take a conservative approach to how they are going to view the year.”
While the announced allocation for the current water year started at 70 pc, it rose to 100 pc late last year, and Mr Moro said there was every likelihood that the same thing would happen.
The race for water resulted in an increase in temporary trading action – where an irrigator can rent another irrigator’s water for a year – while the price of water has also skyrocketed.
While demand for water dropped off as the announced allocation was increased, Mr Moro expects the market to heat up again in the lead up to the new water year.
“The price of water has dramatically jumped over the last 12 months,” Mr Moro said.
“The highest official sale I saw was $2700 per megalitre in 2016.
“The starting point was $1200 in January 2016 so we have seen more than a doubling in price in permanent trading.
“Two years ago there was about 20,000 megalitres temporarily traded. In the 2015/16 water year it peaked to just above 46,000 megalitres.”
Mr Moro said farmers were looking at alternative water sources to sure up supplies.
“There’s been a lot more bore activity in the Mareeba-Dimbulah area and I have also heard that some farmers are looking at increasing their dam capacity to manage,” Mr Moro said.
“But again it’s only to manage. The bores are an alternative water source to try and make sure they have whatever they need to grow their crops.
“At the end of the day the weather is the wild card.”