Irrigators wary of being stuck with dam upgrade costs

Cotton Australia and others point out flaws in Queensland irrigation review


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Irrigators don't want to be stuck with huge upgrade costs

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The Queensland Competition Authority is currently reviewing irrigation pricing.

The Queensland Competition Authority is currently reviewing irrigation pricing.

A proposal to make irrigators foot the bill for pricey dam safety upgrades has been met with fierce opposition among affected industry groups. 

Cotton Australia, the Burdekin River Irrigation Area, the Fairbairn Irrigation Network, Theodore Water and the Pioneer Valley Water Cooperative are some of the groups who have raised concerns about the plan. 

The Queensland Competition Authority is currently undertaking a review of irrigation pricing and will deliver recommendations on future price paths early in 2020. 

The authority has been directed to present two price options to the state government, one of which includes the cost of dam safety upgrades within the price irrigators pay for water.

The cost of these safety upgrades could be substantial, with SunWater currently planning a series of 16 dam improvement projects across the state.

Cotton Australia, in a submission to the review, said the costs associated with dam safety upgrades was a "huge issue" for irrigators. 

These costs should be completely excluded from irrigation pricing because the benefits of dam safety were enjoyed by the whole community, not just irrigators, Cotton Australia said. 

"The costs associated could be so large, that if irrigators had been required to contribute to dam safety costs a dam was being considered, the investment in the dam may never have been made."

The Burdekin River Irrigation Area made a similar argument in its submission to the pricing review. 

"... these costs should be met by government as dams were built to benefit the region, the state and the nation, and that irrigators are not the sole beneficiaries or impactors."

Theodore Water criticised the lack of information concerning the reasoning behind the dam safety upgrades and the way costs would be calculated. 

"Theodore Water have not had opportunity to fully understand the detail behind the proposed solutions and/or the necessity of dam safety projects and their costings," the group wrote.

"We understand the need for, and support measures to improve community safety, however we are not yet convinced proposed upgrades will mitigate future risks to any great extent beyond those currently at play."

LNP natural resources spokesman Dale Last said the state government should rule out passing on dam safety costs to irrigators. 

“It is clear that water is already too expensive with many farmers choosing not to turn the pumps and taps on,” he said. 

“Price increases will be the final nail in the coffin for a number of once productive irrigation schemes.

“The high cost of electricity with the addition of ever rising dam safety costs means water will continue to be unused and wasted in our dams.”

SunWater recently kicked off stakeholder consultations for the Paradise Dam improvement program, a rolling series of capital works prioritised across Queensland’s dams according to risk. 

Water services provided by Burnett Water in relation to the Paradise Dam in Bundaberg have been specifically ruled out of the review. 

Queensland Farmers' Federation spokesman Ian Johnson has described the review as a mixed bag, with some schemes feeling a small impact and others set to be significantly affected.

The Queensland Competition Authority will be holding a series of workshops throughout January and early February. 

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