Angry Upper Condamine farmers have called on the Queensland government to scrap its notice of metering requirements for groundwater pumping and start the process again.
The call forms the basis of a petition that was circulated at a community meeting near Warwick on Thursday morning, called after letters notifying users of radical changes were sent out, many arriving after the regulatory period had come into force.
Mixed farmer and meeting co-organiser Ross Bartlett said around 300 people had heard dismayed and angry speakers outline how the abrupt notice, done without consultation, had impacted them.
"One speaker who runs a large vegetable production business said it had put 40 job in jeopardy," he said. "He had to ignore the notice and operate outside the recommended hours. Because of frost he has to pump during the day - to do otherwise, as outlined in the notice, would have killed his large onion crop."
According to the letter issuing the revised limitation notice, users are restricted to using 80 per cent of their allocations during two 12-hour periods per week, unless meters are installed. Pumping has previously been unrestricted.
Mr Bartley said the speaker shared the short shrift he'd been given when he contacted the department to discuss his predicament on three separate occasions, which only repeated the need to put in a submission.
He has since had meters installed and the grower said he would have had them installed three months ago if he'd been given notice.
That example was one of a number outlined by Southern Downs MP James Lister in a letter to Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham last week.
He said many irrigators were in the middle of irrigating fodder or other crops and it was unreasonable to expect them to comply with the changes with such little notice.
"This eastern Warwick phase of the transition to metering by DNRME has been handled unsatisfactorily," he said. "It is unreasonable for affected irrigators to comply with less than zero notice, especially when sections of the local industry have not had time to prepare."
Local small irrigation supply businesses weren't aware of the meter standards, nor the amount of work involved, or that July 1 had been the start date.
Irrigators trying to negotiate individual irrigation terms were advised by DNRME staff that it would take at least two weeks, Mr Lister said.
He said a meter rollout stakeholder engagement in the nearly Dalrymple Creek area had been successfully led by the department and a similar process must be rolled out for the current phase.
"This has simply been bungled. The government should eat humble pie, dump the process and start again. People just want this to be fixed."
A show of hands at the meeting indicated full support for metering, according to Mr Bartley.
Dr Lynham advised Mr Lister that the department had held meetings across groundwater areas "where there were proactive committees the department could engage with".
"The department apologises that it did not engage through meetings in the Glengallan and adjacent southern valleys, however the opportunity now presents itself to form a representative group for future engagement," he said.
"The department held a forum of meter suppliers, installers and certified validators in conjunction with Irrigation Australia in Toowoomba on May 27.
"As part of the feedback, the staged approach to implementation was identified by industry as one that they were able to manage."
Dr Lynham said the changes had been as the result of the extreme dry conditions across much of south and eastern Queensland.
"As a result of the very low rainfall, groundwater recharge is significantly reduced and couple with an increased demand for groundwater, the water levels across both basalt and alluvial aquifers have had rapid and significant declines."
The water level in the monitoring bores at Moola and Myall Creeks north west of Toowoomba has dropped 1m in the last year, while the one at Glengallan Creek has decreased 3m in the last year, and the trend in the Condamine River bore is of a 0.4m drop in the last year.
Dr Lynham didn't indicate in his letter that he would cancel the current metering implementation phase and adopt a new process that included full and fair consultation with stakeholders.
The petition will be presented when parliament sits again.