Water is a critical input for Queensland's agricultural sector, essential to produce world class food, fibre and foliage. As the state turns to economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queensland Farmers' Federation has been working with the government through the Queensland Industry Recovery Alliance to identify opportunities for Queensland and suggests investment in water infrastructure must be prioritised to drive growth and also to build resilience. Water is a key connector and enabler for agriculture, yet we have about 1.1 million megalitres of underutilised water despite ongoing drought conditions. QFF's policy has been to address this underutilisation of water and modernise (or at least maintain) our existing irrigation infrastructure before building new.
The Queensland government has broadly investigated underutilisation issues but has been historically reluctant to address them, whether generally, in relation to the operation of the state's water markets, or scheme specific, regarding the management of entitlements and allocations. We are heartened by the current government project to address underutilised water across the state, but the underlying issues associated with high electricity and water costs remain. Additionally, under current government policy, new water infrastructure is built at full cost recovery with little consideration of co-benefits such as reliable water for regional towns and communities, maintaining food security, economic growth and creation of employment opportunities. And for many irrigators, full cost recovery results in water costs that are too high.
While pursuing solutions for these ongoing issues, QFF and strategic partner Jacobs analysed existing studies to identify Queensland's top five new water infrastructure projects. The new projects that could move to construction within the next three years include the Lockyer Valley Water Distribution System, Coalstoun Lakes, Blackbutt High Security Water, the Gilbert River Irrigation Project and the Bowen Pipeline. This is not meant to be a definitive list and does not include those projects already funded such as the Rookwood Weir, Granite Belt Water, and the Lakelands and Hughenden Irrigation projects, but QFF encourages the state government to consider investing in a pipeline of smart water infrastructure projects to deliver sustainable economic growth and jobs to rural and regional communities.