South Australian water license and register reforms

Water users in South Australia will benefit from a $14.7m program to reform the ageing water licensing system and improve water trading.

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Water users and participants in South Australia’s water market will benefit from a $14.7m program to reform South Australia’s ageing water licensing system and automate and improve statewide and interstate water trading.

Funding was secured in early 2019 for a new system, at its cornerstone a customer-centric State Water Register, that is online and accessible from mobile devices.

The provision of more robust and reliable register services will enhance the ability of South Australian water-dependent businesses to utilise water licences as collateral for loans. The amendments will also promote confidence to trade and invest in water licences, supporting business resilience, innovation and commercial competitiveness. These amendments are considered essential to provide a suitable scheme for the registration of security interests and to support the roll out of the WMS program by mid 2021.

The delivery of these services will also reduce transaction costs and red tape and support more efficient business decision making by parties seeking to trade and invest in water licences.

Through automation and other business improvements, water users and water market participants will benefit from:

  • an accessible and accountable State Water Register that supports customer trading and environmental water use
  • efficient water trading and accurate reporting based on timely data
  • access to more knowledge and improved confidence in making critical decisions about water
  • improved intra and interstate water trading by reducing trading times and better data interfaces between the South Australian, New South Wales and Victorian water management and accounting systems
  • the flexibility to buy and sell water when it is needed
  • improved responsiveness to future drivers such as more extreme droughts, floods or changes to policy and regulations.

The initiative responds to early engagement with key stakeholders – including growers, water traders and brokers, irrigators, financiers, bore drillers and dam constructors – around where improvements could be made on the current ageing water management system.

The new system is expected to be operational by mid 2021 with its development being led by the Water Management Solutions team within the Department for Environment and Water in collaboration with industry stakeholders.

The $14.7 million program is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the South Australian Government.

Source: Department of Environment and Water 2019-04

Impending 200 percent water hike could hit parched WA farmers hard

Farmers on Western Australia’s south coast already trucking in water to keep stock alive are anxious their bills could more than triple.

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Key points:

  • Water fees for fast-flowing standpipes will increase by as much as 200 per cent from July 1
  • Water Corporation says the new rates ensure commercial customers pay the same across WA
  • Farmers in the Great Southern have warned the new pricing will make carting water unviable

The corporation plans to remove concessional prices for water drawn from fast-flowing, regional standpipes from July 1, which could increase water bills for some landholders by as much as 200 per cent.

Standpipes are freestanding pipes that provide clean water to remote areas with no direct access to water schemes.

Regional local governments must now decide whether to absorb the extra cost or pass it on to farmers and ratepayers.

Community subsidising farms

The new charges will vary depending on the size of the water outlet and flow rate, and higher prices will target high-volume users, such as farmers.

Earlier this year, the corporation temporarily cut supply to standpipes in the shires of Kulin and Lake Grace because intense demand from farming operations was undermining the drinking water supply to local towns.

Water Corporation Great Southern regional manager Adrian Stewart said the new rates ensured commercial customers paid the same across the state, regardless of whether or not the water was supplied from the scheme or a standpipe.

“It will also prevent the situation where the community is effectively subsidising water use for commercial enterprises,” he said.

Mr Stewart said the commercial rate would depend on the rate for the town where the standpipe was located, and these were based on the unique cost of supplying water to each town.

Flow-on effect

In the Shire of Katanning, about 270 kilometres south-east of Perth, the price will go from $2.50 per kilolitre to $8.30 for 50 and 80-millimetre standpipes.

The annual service fee will also rise from about $260 to $1,650 and $4,250 for 50mm and 80mm standpipes.

To achieve full cost recovery, including maintenance and administration, the shire said it would have to pass on a cost of up to $30 per kilolitre for some of its standpipes.

Katanning Shire President Liz Guidera said the changes were unfair on some residents already struggling with dry conditions.

“Obviously, the [State] Government has made this decision and hasn’t consulted with the community,” she said.

The localities of Lake Grace, Newdegate and Ravensthorpe had less than half of the average rainfall last year, and some livestock producers have warned of an impending water crisis.

In the past year Katanning pig farmer Tony Richardson has spent $80,000 on potable water for his pigs, and a further $200,000 on a desalination unit to reduce his reliance on the scheme.

“We have to have 60,000 litres a day, that’s the stock requirements,” Mr Richardson said.

“It’s hard enough living on the land … but having to pay that amount for water, well, I wouldn’t be farming.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) has set up a network with more than 120 emergency water supply points for livestock producers.

‘Just a gouge’: Farmer

Richard Marshall grows crops about 28km east of Katanning, and while he does not keep any livestock, he still relies on nearby standpipes.

He is currently carting water for herbicide spraying, which requires clean water rather than the limited muddied dam water available.

Mr Marshall said it was unreasonable to expect rural water users to bear the extra costs.

“We can’t help it when it doesn’t rain,” he said.

In response, the Corporation’s Mr Stewart said it would be up to local governments to decide if they passed on any impacts to water users.

“Water Corporation will ensure high-flow local government standpipes used for commercial purposes are charged prices consistent with other commercial users in that location,” he said.

“Patterns of water use from fixed standpipes have shown some businesses are currently charged at the concessional level by accessing local government standpipes, which is unfair for other businesses that are being charged correctly.”

Fees for 25mm standpipes, with slower flow rates, will stay about the same.

But Mr Marshall said the limited capacity and extra filling time would make it an unviable option.

“If they’re going to restrict it to small flows and tanks, we’ll be struggling to get what we require,” he said.

“Therefore, we are forced to pay the exorbitant price of a 50mm outlet.

“I can’t see why it should cost more to deliver a 50mm standpipe against a 25mm one — it’s only a matter of outflow, it’s still water at the end of the day.”

Ms Guidera said the State Government should readopt the Farm Water Rebate Scheme, which covered half of the costs for on-farm water supply works.

The scheme was axed almost 12 months ago, as part of the State Government’s cost cuttings.

In future, concessional rates will only apply to fast-flowing standpipes if the local government makes a formal request for a declaration of ‘water deficiency’ to the DWER.

The declaration process aims to safeguard the commercial interests of farmers during very dry periods.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-04

Barwon Darling water buyout in response to Menindee fish kill

The independent report into the Lower Darling fish kill is in and the Commonwealth’s coffers are bracing for a multi-million dollar hit.

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The federal government now is moving to buyout the controversial A Class water licences in NSW’s Barwon Darling catchment of the Murray Darling Basin.

The buyout bid could exceed $20 million. The total A Class volume is 9 gigalitres and average price was around $1500 a megalitre back in 2018, when drought was only starting to bite.

Cotton grower Bengerang Limited holds the majority of A Class entitlement and it’s understood it and other potential sellers are open to buyout discussions with the government.

These licences are so valuable because not all water is equal in irrigation country. A Class was created by NSW government in 2012 to provide irrigators access during times of low river flow.

A key recommendation from the report was to safeguard low flows to prevent future fish kills because that’s when water is most valuable to the environment as well as irrigation.

Low flows connect fish refuge waterholes, maintain healthy levels of dissolved oxygen and to keep the ecosystem at in a state where it can bounce back quickly when it rains again.

On top of the A Class buyout, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also committed to spend $70 million, drawn from the $12 billion Basin Plan budget, on other fish kill prevention measures.

“I think all Australians who saw footage of these fish deaths were deeply saddened,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The federal government accepts and will address each recommendation made to it, and will work with states on others.”

The report was prepared by an expert panel chaired by Professor Rob Vertessy, and found a range of factors contributed to the fish kill.

The report listed record-breaking drought; a sudden cold snap which exacerbated the low oxygen levels in a river pool below Menindee where fish were trapped, and; the management of the Menindee Lakes storage system which prioritised water releases to meet cross-border flow requirements into South Australia over storage for future dry spells.

The findings aren’t just significant for NSW and Queensland. South Australia and Victoria are also impacted by Vertessy’s call for a rewrite of the management regime of the Menindee Lakes.

The Far West NSW storage has traditionally been used as a priority water source to meet upstream states’ water delivery commitments to SA.

This regime saw a vast amount of the unseasonable winter flood windfall, which filled Menindee in 2016, released to SA in 2017 and left the Lower Darling and its native fish high and dry when drought bit at the end of the year.

But in future, the report said, more water should be held back to maintain consistent low flows down the Lower Darling.

It remains to be seen how Mr Littleproud addressed the report’s recommendation, but any changes that increase water availability to the Darling River raise the possibility that the Southern Basin, where communities are rallying against further water recovery, could be called on to plug the gap.

A Class access

Around 9GL of the new A Class licence category was created by then NSW Water Minister Katrina Hodgkinson in 2012. They were designed to provide increased access to water during low flows.

Previous rules required a flow rate of more than 1000ML/day over the Bourke Weir before licence holders could pump, but A Class holders can pump when the weir flows at more than 350ML/day.

Bengerang, run by the Robinson family, acquired its entitlements in August last year when it split from a joint venture with Webster. It paid $134 million for the JV’s northern cropping and water assets, including an aggregation at Garah and Darling Farms at Bourke.

Fish kill funds

  • $25m subsidies to irrigators for AS4747 compliant water meters, backdated 12 months. NSW and Qld will be asked to contribute funds as well
  • $10m to restock native fish into rivers and lakes
  • $5m for cameras to live stream river flows on the internet
  • $20m to research to improve knowledge of northern Basin ecosystems

Previous funding commitments

  • $5m Native Fish Management and Recovery Strategy
  • New fishway at Menindee main weir and the removal of the Menindee old town weir to improve fish movement through the river system
  • Upgrades to two fishways and construction of a new fishway on the Lower Darling River below Menindee Lakes
  • Construction of a fishway between Frenchman’s Creek and Lake Victoria to enable better fish passage along the Murray River
  • $30m with NSW to replace Wilcannia Weir and include a fishway that improves connectivity along that stretch of the Barwon Darling River
  • $180 million for QLD and NSW to implement the northern Basin’s toolkit measures to improve environmental outcomes in the northern Basin
  • $3m for a research program on ecosystem functions in the Murray-Darling Basin
  • $10m Murray-Darling Basin Environmental Water Knowledge and Research Project with the Basin states to inform environmental water management decisions

Source: Goulburn Post 2019-04

Tough vintage for eastern Victoria’s battling winemakers

A combination of bushfires, drought, birds and bats have made this year’s vintage a tough one for eastern Victoria’s winemakers.

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Key points:

  • Bushfires last month destroyed one winery, while smoke taint damaged much of the crop at others
  • Glenmaggie Wines rushed to pick early, with the community responding to calls on social media
  • Glenmaggie’s winemaker says, while the crop yield is down, quality is up

Last month a bushfire in the Bunyip State Park destroyed the Jinks Creek Winery in West Gippsland and saw other wineries lose much of their crop to smoke taint.

It was a vintage Jinks Creek owner Andrew Clarke would rather forget.

Last month on a Sunday, Mr Clarke was due to start picking his grapes when a bushfire swept through his Tonimbuk property destroying his home, winery, and cellar door, as well as burning vines that had been planted in 1979.

“We lost our business, our livelihood, and our home,” Mr Clarke said.

“I think one of the things I’m realising is how ferocious this fire was; it really was incredibly intense.

“I’m contemplating the future and it’s a lot to get your head around.”

Smoke-tainted vintage

Adding to Mr Clarke’s pain, the grapes on the vines that were not burnt cannot be used because of smoke taint.

Instead, the grapes will be left on the vine for birds and bees to feast on.

“[The grapes] were looking fantastic, but I lost the whole year’s production,” Mr Clarke said.

“The smoke taint just ruins them and the wines end up smelling like an ashtray, so there’s not much point processing them.”

The fire also destroyed barrels of shiraz and chardonnay from last year’s vintage.

Mr Clarke estimated that alone would have cost about half a million dollars.

Community lends a picking hand

In East Gippsland, winemakers were rushing to harvest their crop to avoid smoke taint from various fires in the region.

Glenmaggie Wines put a call out on social media to try to get help with picking at short notice.

“It was incredible. We had hundreds of people respond on Facebook; it was a wonderful response from our community,” Ms Dawkins said.

“We were in a really tough situation, we had to get the crop off really quickly and we couldn’t find backpackers who usually pick our crop.

“So in the end we did get the crop off in half the time we usually do, which was fantastic.”

The ongoing drought has also forced wineries in East Gippsland to crush earlier — if they were fortunate enough to have irrigation. Those without won’t harvest a drop.

“This year the drought has been very tricky for most of the East Gippsland wineries,” said Glenmaggie Wines’ Tony Dawkins.

“Generally those with water have got through, but anyone with a dry vineyard essentially got no fruit at all.”

Birds play havoc

Birds also created problems with many winemakers reporting large groups on the hunt for water and food.

“Bird pressure this year was unbelievable. We’ve had more birds than I’ve ever seen before,” Mr Dawkins said.

One East Gippsland winery has also reported bats targeting their fruit, something they had not experienced before.

Despite being thrown a few hurdles, Mr Dawkins said there was a positive — drought years often meant more intense wine.

“On the bright side, when you have a drought you usually get very intense fruit and that’s exactly what we got this year,” Mr Dawkins said.

“Bunch size and berry size are small but the flavours are fantastic, and so far they’re translating into the wines.

“It was tricky towards the end, but we got through.”

Source: ABC Rural 2019-04

Coalition pledges $100m for Tasmanian irrigators

Tasmania’s horticulture industry will get a $100 million boost for irrigation supply projects if the coalition wins the federal election.

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Scott Morrison will announce the promise for five water supply projects on Wednesday, as his campaign’s focus shifts to the island state.

“The Liberal-Nationals government is determined to unlock the economic potential of our regions and we know often the answer is simply, ‘just add water’,” the prime minister said.

Mr Morrison will start the day in Melbourne on Wednesday after two days spent in Victoria campaigning in marginal Liberal-held seats.

On Tuesday, he targeted Corangamite, with sitting Liberal MP Sarah Henderson notionally behind after a redistribution.

The government says the third tranche of the Tasmanian irrigation project could result in $114 million of economic benefit a year and 2600 full-time jobs.

The coalition doesn’t hold any seats in Tasmania, but it is targeting three potential gains in Bass, Braddon and Lyons.

Mr Morrison said the fully delivered irrigation plan could deliver 78,000 megalitres of water, 479km of pipelines, seven dams, 23 pump stations and four power stations.

“This project will unlock thousands of jobs across Tasmania, strengthen our economy and support our farmers,” he said.

The announcement comes off the back of $1.78 million committed to the state government for feasibility studies for irrigation.

Mr Morrison will also promise $30 million for a Launceston precinct for defence research and development.

The precinct at the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College will aim to boost Australia’s defence capability.

“Our plan for strong economy means we’re backing Tasmania’s defence industries and naval capability with a $30 million investment,” Mr Morrison said.

The prime minister has campaigned hard on the coalition’s economic management credentials, wooing senior voters in Victoria on Tuesday.

Source: FarmWeekly 2019-04

Farmers tap into growing ag tech opportunities

Farmers had the chance to learn about the new technologies in agriculture at the SMART Farm Field Day at the Muresk Institute.

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The Koorda Community Resource Centre was instrumental in bringing together a group of leading farmers who were curious to learn more about on-farm connectivity and how it might improve their business.

These farmers are contemplating installing Internet of Things (IoT) devices on their farms ultimately resulting in increases in production, lowering input costs and having more time.

Koorda CRC manager Kim Storer said they were impressed by what was happening in the ag tech world and were keen to become part of it.

“Mythbusting the IoT and what IoT actually is, was key to the early part of the field day,” Ms Storer said.

She said the aim of the day was to connect farmers with entrepreneurs and innovators so that they were able to provide valuable information flows to make improvements.

Muresk Institute general manager Prue Jenkins shared information about the various education and training opportunities that were being offered, as well as additional research projects that will be showcased at the Muresk Institute Open Day on Wednesday, June 19.

Muresk Institute farm manager Steve Wainwright provided insights into the applications of weather monitoring, soil moisture probes, water level in troughs, fuel levels in storage tanks and gate sensors for improved security for livestock, as well as managing the herd.

CRISP Wireless’s Jeremy Devenish spoke about the differences between Wi-Fi, GPS and Satellite, 3G and 4G systems, plus fixed wireless internet and LoraWan systems.

AgWorld’s Simon Foley said that after 10 years, his platform was reaching agriculturalists and agronomists across Australia and the globe, providing secure access for producers to their own data that could be applied in real time.

One farmer at the field day, who uses AgWorld, shared how easy the system is to apply and used across thousands of hectares and how their decision-making has improved with access to information.

Leigh Ballard from Regional Communication Solutions (RCS) spoke about the benefits of access to connectivity and real-time information and the importance of understanding what you need and what will provide the best return on investment for your business.

This included using soil moisture probes at different depths to measure the temperature of the soil and monitor and manage soil biology.

Jonathon Swift, from Stratus Imaging, provided insights into how his company had been using drones to capture data then applying sophisticated imaging techniques.

He showed how analysing data could make a significant difference to increasing agronomic production systems by up to 400 kilograms per hectare.

Mr Swift also shared information about operating different kinds of drones and the importance of adhering to CASA regulations.

Source: FarmWeekly 2019-04

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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