Paradise Dam: Bundaberg irrigators can 'flood harvest' in accordance with their water entitlements

Ben Harden
By Ben Harden
Updated November 23 2021 - 10:07pm, first published November 22 2021 - 8:00am
SPILLING OVER: As of Monday lunch time, Paradise Dam was at 102 per cent capacity, storing 173,940 mega litres of water. Picture: Sunwater

Bundaberg irrigators will have full access to their water entitlement until the end of June 2022, following significant inflows into Paradise Dam in the past fortnight.

Sunwater announced on Thursday that high priority irrigators in the Burnett sub-scheme and all customers in the Kolan sub-scheme were also allowed 100 per cent of their allocation.

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Local irrigators on the scheme have welcomed the news of the allocation increase, after nearly five months of only having a water entitlement of 22pc.

As of Monday lunch time, Paradise Dam was at 102 per cent capacity, storing 173,940 mega litres of water.

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Sunwater's executive general manager operations Colin Bendall said the announcement is a welcome relief for local growers, as it provides them with greater certainty for the months ahead.

"Paradise Dam is full, as are downstream storages Ned Churchward Weir and Ben Anderson Barrage, with rainfall received across the region," Mr Bendall said.

"It is good to receive significant rainfall this early in the wet season as there is always the possibility of further falls throughout the summer.

"It is important to note allocations cannot decrease during the water year." The Queensland Government is expected to make a decision on the long-term future of Paradise Dam by the end of the year.

Bundaberg irrigators question water management

While local irrigators have welcomed the news of an allocation increase, many have questioned whether it is the best way to manage the water supply.

The Lewis family at their farm in Bundaberg. Picture: Supplied.

Bundaberg macadamia grower Andrew Lewis is very pleased the dam is full, but would like to see the water in Paradise Dam managed carefully, so growers can have confidence in a reliable water supply for years to come.

"We're so happy that Paradise has finally had some major inflows," Mr Lewis said.

"The most important factor for a tree crop like macadamias is reliable water supply. There is nothing worse than erratic announced allocations which make it very difficult to plan ahead".

"We've been on 100pc announced allocation for many years, but since the wall was lowered we've started the water year on 70pc, in July 2020, and just 22pc in July 2021.

"If we don't manage the water in Paradise Dam carefully, we could be facing an uncertain future where the announced allocation in July is low again."

Flood harvesting permitted for entitled irrigators

Local irrigators are also questioning why the Department of Regional Development and Manufacturing (DRDM) isn't allowing growers on along the North Burnett river to 'flood harvest' into their on-farm dams.

Andrew has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in building on-farm dams, due to the uncertainty surrounding Paradise Dam.

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"In the past, growers in this region were able to pull water from the river during flooding and store it on-farm," he said.

"Now, the department is telling us the option to flood harvest is no longer available. Surely it would be better for that flood water to be pumped into my farm dam then just let it run out to sea?".

A water entitlement is required in order to take water from the Burnett river. Supplemented water in the Burnett river is water that is supplied by Sunwater via dams or weirs, whilst unsupplemented water is supplied by natural flow.

There are 33 unsupplemented water allocation holders along the Burnett River who can access up to 3500 megalitres when conditions are met. This is usually referred to as water harvesting or flood harvesting.

Supplemented water allocation holders can also access the water during this period in alignment with the volumes stated on their entitlements and can store water in private dams if desired.

Minister for Water and Regional Development and Manufacturing Glenn Butcher said irrigators can access water, as long as they're in accordance with their entitlements.

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"We know that what has happened at Paradise Dam has not been easy for the Bundaberg community - whether that's as someone living downstream, or an irrigator operating in the region," Mr Butcher said.

"I have visited the Bundaberg region a number of times, and I've met with a range of irrigators and visited their properties including the fruit and vegetable growers and macadamia farmers. The extra rainfall into the catchment this week is excellent news for local farmers.

"Local water users can also take water from the river due to these additional flows to use on their properties or store in private dams in accordance with their entitlements so it's great news for them too."

Calls for consistent water allocation

Tom Marland, the lawyer leading the Paradise Dam Class Action, said growers would prefer to have a relatively consistent allocation, in order to make longer term decisions about managing their crops and their workforce.

"While an increase to 100pc announced allocation sounds good, the devil is in the detail. At the end of the day, a smaller dam will empty sooner if the water is used too quickly," Mr Marland said.

"Sunwater are operating a 170 000 ML dam using rules designed for a 300 000 ML dam. Many farmers in this region feel it is time to review those rules and see if they can be amended to better suit a smaller dam".

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"Surely there is scope for some type of 'interim' rules which allow Sunwater to manage the dam carefully while it is lower and then revert back to the original rules once Paradise Dam has been reinstated?."

The Queensland Government is expected to make a decision on the long-term future of Paradise Dam by the end of the year.

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Ben Harden

Ben Harden

Queensland Country Life Journalist

Based in Rockhampton, Central Queensland. Contact: 0437528907

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