Bundaberg Region irrigators are concerned for the future after the release of this year’s water allocations from Paradise Dam.
The water level of Paradise Dam has been reduced to 42 per cent while Sunwater undertakes essential works for safety reasons.
Sunwater says “Bundaberg growers will enter the next water year with more confidence” following the release of water allocations for the region.
However, Childers neighbours John Russo and Steve Hoffmann say the impact of lowering the dam's capacity is starting to be felt.
“Everyone has been worried what would happen to announced allocations once the dam level was lowered,” said Mr Russo, who grows sugarcane, peanuts and macadamias.
“Starting on 70 per cent allocation is certainly a challenge, but I’m more worried about next year … what will next year’s allocation be if we don’t have serious inflows into the dam?
“Many farmers in this region have young macadamia orchards; we’re all worried how we will keep those trees alive and get them through to maturity.”
Mr Russo’s neighbour, Steve Hoffmann, grows sugarcane, peanuts and opportunity forage crops.
He's concerned he won’t be able to plant opportunity crops in the future if the announced allocation becomes less reliable.
“It’s a double whammy at the moment,” he said.
“We’ve just been through 18 months of dry conditions; in fact we’re currently drought declared in this region, and now the announced allocation is only 70 per cent.
“I’ve made large investments in water infrastructure over the last few years to improve water use efficiency on my farms.
“Now I can’t even be sure I will have water to put through it.”
Mr Hoffman said “some tough decisions” will need to be made this irrigation season.
“Growers are going to have to prioritise which crops they irrigate and which crops they neglect,” he said.
“It’s not a future we were expecting when we learnt Paradise Dam was going to be built.
“We thought a dam on the Burnett River would finally provide long-term water security, but now everything is in doubt.
“I’m very worried for the next generation, like my son, who are facing so much uncertainty about water security now.”
Sunwater says water allocations can't decrease
Sunwater Executive General Manager Customer and Stakeholder Relations, Cameron Milliner, said the water allocations are within range of those experienced over the past five years.
“Water security is important for the whole region, so it was critical to ensure availability was not adversely impacted while essential works are being undertaken at Paradise Dam,” he said, adding the allocations were maximised after Sunwater, the Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy and customer representatives worked to secure a change to water-sharing rules.
“It's important to note allocations cannot decrease during the water year,” Mr Milliner said.
“Allocations will increase during the water year following inflows.
“The priority remains community safety, and the current works to lower the spillway will provide short-term risk reduction while a longer-term remediation of the dam is designed and implemented.”
Sunwater is assisting a Building Queensland-led process that will provide further information on options for the future of Paradise Dam to the Queensland Government by the end of 2021.
The options include maintaining the same dam height, raising the spillway to a level to be advised, or lowering the spillway further with extra alternative water supply options as required.
The Queensland Government has committed to preserving the yield currently provided by Paradise Dam to the scheme, ahead of customer demand.
“We want to ensure Paradise Dam continues to provide long-term water security and underpins economic prosperity in Bundaberg and the Burnett for generations to come,” Mr Milliner said.
High-priority water users in the scheme, including Bundaberg Regional Council for residential supply, and all water users in the Kolan sub-scheme will again have 100 per cent of their water allocations.
$2.4 billion economic cost of inaction
A report by Adept Economics estimates the cost of inaction on Paradise Dam, to the Bundaberg Region, would be approximately $2.4 billion over the next 30 years.
This is the potential cost to the Queensland economy of a permanent lowering of Paradise Dam by up to five metres.
The report shows that not restoring the Dam wall will compromise future investment and income-generation from high-valued crops, such as macadamias and avocadoes.