Water management and its allocation for the St George region is now in the hands of those who know it best - St George locals.
Accepting an offer for the channel assets to be transferred from SunWater to the irrigator-owned company, Mallawa Irrigation Ltd, in March 2018, the first significant Local Management Arrangement (LMA) in Queensland officially kicked off from July 1.
Mallawa Irrigation general manager, Rohan Thorogood, said the transition to taking over ownership and management of the scheme had been slightly bumpy but successful.
“We had a transition manager in Justin Schultz and the chairman Luke Stower, they've all done a hell of a lot of work in regards to the transition,” he said.
“We've now got a new asset management system, a new financial system and we’ve got the majority of our policies and procedures in place, so we're looking forward to the future.”
Mr Thorogood said a better understanding of farmers’ needs and the critical infrastructure necessary was one of the many advantages of a LMA.
“We think that we can probably do some things just as good, but a bit cheaper than when we were under SunWater,” he said.
“Our first project is the St George pump station which we know has been in a state of disrepair for quite a while.
“We're already involved and starting to get a scope of works and a plan set up for that, so that'll be a pretty major achievement if we can get that done in the next couple of years.
“We've got engineers at our disposal and even the local knowledge of farmers, so we're confident that we can achieve a good outcome, probably at a lower expense for local farmers.”
Mr Thorogood said the relationship with local farmers was of utmost importance.
“I think the relationship's been fairly reasonable all the way along, but we're not going to shut the doors on farmers when it comes to major projects, like with the St George pump station,” he said.
“We're going to get a few guys with experience in building pump stations to give us their input as well.
“You can't disregard what local knowledge can do.”
St George is the first region to transition to a LMA, and Mr Thorogood said as the ‘guinea pig’ their experience would help future transitions like the Theodore scheme.
“There was a hell of a lot of things that both sides learnt during the transition process, so going forward I think it will be easier for other schemes to get up and running.”
Local farmer, Josh Carrigan, Bloomfield, said despite the water delivery being much the same, the financial factor was huge for irrigators.
“If we achieve all of the goals that we set out for it, it'll be a great opportunity.”
A game changer for the local community
The transfer of water ownership and management from SunWater to the Local Management Arrangement (LMA) in the St George district has been a huge boost for the small community.
Comprising 112 kilometres of pipelines and channels between the Balonne River and Buckinbah pump station, the St George channel scheme distributes water to around 50 customers and irrigates 10,000 hectares of land.
Mallawa Irrigation member director and local farmer, Scott Armstrong, Sharmarel, St George, said the scheme could be a game changer for St George farmers and the community as a whole.
“It's been something that we've had in our minds for a long time and we're just excited that we've been given this opportunity,” he said.
“Certainly with the local knowledge and the local expertise and the local skills we've got in this area, we believe we've got the right mix that we’re going to need to maximise the potential of this scheme.”
Mr Armstrong said the new ownership would put a local focus on everything that’s done in the region.
“Having a local focus and keeping as much of the expertise local in all the years going forward is only going to be a benefit for the scheme.
“You're always going to do better when you've got skin in the game and the local irrigators are absolutely committed to the success of this scheme going forward, because it is our absolute livelihood and it's the livelihood of the community that we're a part of.”
When looking at historical pricing trends, Mr Armstrong said this would ensure the long term viability of agriculture in the region.
“That's a great thing when you've got another generation of really keen young farmers just chomping at the bit to have a go and get into the agricultural game.”