Boost for Northern Victorian Water Market

The Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) set to sell a small portion of its water allocation in the northern Victorian water market.

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The Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH) will sell a small portion of its water allocation in the northern Victorian water market when up to 10 gigalitres of Murray allocation will be made available through selected brokers from March this year.

VEWH Chairperson Denis Flett said the VEWH’s latest assessment showed that all priority environmental watering actions planned for dry conditions can be achieved this year, and there is enough water available to carry over for critical watering in 2019-20.

“We didn’t need all the water we’d set aside to support bird breeding at Barmah Forest this year because only a small number of waterbirds bred. Our other waterings are progressing well, so we’ve decided to make some unused water available for sale.”

Mr Flett said the decision to sell was made to manage the VEWH’s available water for the greatest environmental benefit across Victoria.

“We’ve seen the impact of drought and no flows in the Darling River in New South Wales. The VEWH’s critical priority during dry conditions is to make sure environmental flows work to provide refuges for plants and animals, avoid critical loss of species and improve resilience in rivers and wetlands across the state.”

“Our assessment of demand and supply of water for the environment indicates there is very little risk that selling this volume of water will affect our ability to provide necessary flows next year.”

Mr Flett said revenue raised from the sale will be invested in projects planned to boost native fish populations in northern Victoria, like works to improve fish habitat and movement.

The sale will also support irrigators and other water users ahead of autumn watering.

“We are aware that current market conditions are challenging for many buyers. Making this water available now will help meet some of the demand for autumn irrigation and carryover into next year.”

The VEWH flagged that it would consider selling water in northern Victoria in its annual trading strategy released in July 2018.

Water set aside for the environment has strict rules governing its sale so that any trade protects the environment, is in the public interest, and has no adverse impacts on the community.

“We’ll use our experience with trade since 2012 to make sure that our actions won’t have any significant adverse impacts on other water market participants and we will monitor trading conditions over the coming months,” Mr Flett said.

Fast Facts:

  • The Victorian Environmental Water Holder is an independent body, established by the Victorian Government in 2011 and responsible for managing Victoria’s water for the environment.
  • Under the Victorian Water Act, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder can buy, sell or exchange water to meet environmental needs.

More Information:

The VEWH’s annual trading strategy outlines potential allocation trading activities that may be carried out by the VEWH in 2018-19 and of how the VEWH plans to conduct trades throughout the year.

Please see www.vewh.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/490863/VEWH-water-allocation-trade-strategy-2018-19_final.pdf

Source: Victorian Environmental Water Holder – 2019-03

Toxic mine water contaminating creek system in far north Queensland

A mothballed mine in far north Queensland is leaching toxic water from a new ‘seepage’ point into neighbouring waterways.

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Key points:

  • This is a new seepage of contaminants into waterways, the environment department says
  • The Government has cancelled the company’s mining leases
  • The mine owner contests the mine pit is the source of the seepage

It said the new leak was coming from a massive disused pit full of contaminated water at the Baal Gammon copper mine that sits next to a creek near the township of Watsonville, south-west of Cairns.

Testing by the environment department found heavy metals including arsenic and cadmium in the seep water that was discovered after heavy rain hit the area in late January.

Locals are being warned not to use the water downstream in Jamie Creek for drinking or cooking.

“It is very frustrating not being able to use this area,” said mother of two Crystal Stone. “we live in an amazing area in tropical far north Queensland and here we are living right next to a river that we can’t even use.”

The Department of Environment and Science (DES) said it was unsure of the volume of contaminated water that it said had been draining from the outer edge of the pit wall into Jamie Creek.

Late last week the mines department cancelled owner Baal Gammon Copper’s (BGC) mining leases for “non-compliance matters relating to the non-payment of outstanding local government rates”.

The Government said it also moved to cancel the company’s Environmental Authority (EA), claiming it failed to pay $3 million in financial assurance used to protect the environment around the mine.

“On Friday 15 March, DES issued a Notice of Proposed Action to cancel BGC Environmental Authority,” the spokesperson said.

“The EA may be cancelled as BGC failed to pay all of its revised financial assurance it owed to the department.”

Baal Gammon Copper said the way the Government had exercised its power was unreasonable.

History of contamination at the mine

This new development comes after the ABC reported last August that government testing found water containing dangerously high levels of heavy metals had leached into Jamie Creek from the mine pit earlier in the year.

Landowners were warned by authorities against using the water in the creek and nearby river for drinking, swimming or watering livestock.

Gus Dyer lives downstream along the Walsh River and said he had not pumped water into his tanks since this January’s rainfall event.

“It was a red murky mess, a big muddy mess,” he said. “It’s more than frustrating. It’s our livelihood out here. We survive on this water.”

The department said it was “doing everything within its power” to prevent contamination of the downstream waters.

“The DES has exercised its Emergency Direction powers to bring technical experts to the site in order to assess options to prevent the seepage from migrating offsite,” the spokesperson said.

“A mobile lime dosing plant has also been mobilised to site, in an effort to accelerate the treatment of pit waters and improve water quality.”

The department said testing further downstream in the Walsh River since January did not exceed Australian drinking water guidelines, “however, users should ensure that water is of suitable quality for its intended end purpose”.

Company contests mine pit responsible for latest contamination

Baal Gammon Copper is ultimately owned by Denis Reinhardt and was paid $1.8 million to assume liability for the mine in 2017.

Mr Reinhardt said there was uncertainty around the source of the seepage, which he called an “expression” of groundwater.

“A similar band appears in the inner wall of the pit and discharges water profusely at times. It appears strongly related to high rainfall events.”

“The Walsh River catchment is heavily mineralised and has many hundreds of old workings… it would be factually incorrect and malicious to broadcast that Baal Gammon is the source of the elevated contaminants.”

Last November, the department launched legal proceedings against Baal Gammon Copper and Mr Reinhardt for allegedly failing to adhere to parts of a 2015 clean-up notice.

The court ordered the company to treat the water and release it.

“BGC intends to treat and empty the Baal Gammon water storages of the mine pit and the mine water dam,” Mr Reinhardt said.

State Opposition Environment spokesman David Crisafulli said action should have been taken much earlier.

“I want to hold people accountable more quickly when things go pear shaped,” Mr Crisafulli said.

Environment Minister Leanne Enoch said the proper processes have been followed.

“There’s been notification, there’s been legal action, there’s been court proceedings, and we have to follow those rules to be able to uphold our regulations and legislation in this state,” Ms Enoch said.

Source: ABC – 2019-03

Dollar milk ends as Coles, Aldi fold to pressure with pledge to raise prices

Dairy milk major retailers Coles and Aldi have increased the price of cheap milk in a bid to help struggling dairy farmers.

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Key points:

  • Both Coles and Aldi will match Woolworths and charge an extra 10 cents per litre for their home brand milk
  • The supermarkets say the measures are temporary, to aid struggling dairy farmers
  • However, both retailers said industry reforms were needed to address the problems facing dairy producers

Dairy suppliers are celebrating the victory in the war against $1-a-litre milk, with the major retailers increasing the price of their private label milk.

They have railed against cheap milk, which they argue has devalued their product since it was first introduced in 2011.

The supermarkets have now committed to return an extra 10 cents per litre direct to dairy farmers, mirroring a commitment from Woolworths last month.

Chair of dairy cooperative Norco, Greg McNamara, one of two processors with contracts with Coles, said some of Coles’ 10 cent increase may already be factored into a previous lift.

“We started that process with Coles around two months ago, around trying to put a price increase through, so every customer took a price increase around 6.5 cents,” he said.

Farmers said while milk is still cheaper today compared to in 2010, they hoped the change had “broken the back” of dollar milk which they claim has contributed to crippling the industry.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud recently called on Australian shoppers to boycott Aldi and Coles for as long as the supermarkets continued to offer cheap milk.

Sustained pressure

Coles and Aldi both issued statements on Tuesday night announcing the price of two and three-litre home brand milk at their stores would increase by 10 cents per litre from March 20.Approximately 696 million litres of milk was sold as $1 milk last year by these three supermarkets. Even at 10 cents per litre more that will be $69.6 million more into dairy.

Coles described the price increase as an interim measure, and Aldi said the price hike was a short-term solution.

Both supermarkets said the proceeds would be passed on to dairy farmers.

“I welcome this news and I encourage supermarkets and processors to spread this right across the dairy range.”

Coles chief executive Steven Cain said drought had compounded many of the difficult issues Australian dairy farmers are facing.

Announcing the price increase, Mr Cain said the retailer was “continuing to explore long-term solutions with government and industry stakeholders” to help the dairy industry.

“However, we know that many dairy farmers cannot wait for structural reform to be delivered so we are moving to provide relief right now,” Mr Cain said.

In a written statement, Aldi Australia spokesman Oliver Bongardt said the German retailer would work with dairy processors to support the long-term viability of the dairy industry.

“Our decision to increase fresh milk prices has been reached in recognition of the significant issues currently impacting the dairy industry and the fact that broader government-led policy reform is unlikely to occur in the short term,” Mr Bongardt said.

Norco, which supplies Coles with milk for its home brand milk product with another processor, Saputo, had recently informed its suppliers of a 6.5 cents-a-litre increase in farmgate price from April 1 for three months.

The Norco management team is meeting today to discuss Coles’ 10 cent increase and to work through the details to determine what increase its suppliers would receive.

“It should be incremental just like wage increases.”

Norco supplies Coles with 70 million litres of milk per year, about a third of its business, for its supermarket home brand milk.

Suppliers note long fight

The price increase comes as Australian dairy farmers are expected to produce the lowest level of milk since the mid-1990s.

A growing number of dairy farmers are exiting the industry, saying it costs more to produce the milk than they are paid for it.

Drought, a downturn in crucial export markets, and high feed, water and electricity prices have made it difficult for farmers to compete since a global downturn in mid-2016.

“I think it’s fantastic, it’s what farmers have been pushing for for a long time. It’s soul destroying to see your product sold at such a low price,” she said.

“I’m not sure what the increase in price will mean to me, but it’s farmers that have to keep the pressure on processors to make sure this will be passed on in full to farmers.

Whether the change had come through lobbying from politicians, consumers or processors, Ms Todd said the change has been led by farmers.

“There needs to be huge structural change to the Australian dairy industry.

“If we don’t see a change in the structure in the way dairy farmers are paid we will continue to see milk prices fall and dairy farmers leaving the industry.”

Southern Queensland dairy farmer Peter Garrett said today was a historic day.

“It’s the first step of what needs to be an industry wide reform towards a more sustainable price,” he said. “Ten cents isn’t going to do it long term, but it’s certainly a huge shot in the arm for the dairy industry.

Mr Garrett said it will help cover some of his increased feed costs due to the drought.

“I think it [the price increase] takes out about a third of my daily costs of feeding my cows,” he said.

“I’m not sure it gets us back in the black yet, but it certainly gets our head well above the water and gives us a bit of breathing room so we can step back and make considered decisions going forward.”

“It’s a bit surreal … when you’ve been fighting such a tough battle for so long and so many people, including some farmers, said ‘you won’t beat them, you can’t beat them, they’re stronger than the government’,” he said.

“Yet I think we’ve shown by working with consumers we have been able to defeat the retailers. It just shows what power consumers have.”

He said he hoped the change will convince farmers to stick with the industry after the number of Queensland dairy farms dropped from 700 to 360 in recent years.

Source: ABC – 2019-03

Rice bowl becomes corn country as irrigators battle low water allocations

The Riverina rice bowl in southern New South Wales is looking more like corn country this season as growers switch crops.

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Normally at this time of year rice headers would be rigged up and raring to go for harvest, but this year first-time corn growers are looking for suitable header fronts to strip their corn crops.

The change in crop choice from rice to corn (also referred to as maize) was made by many growers this summer due to low or no general security water allocations.

NSW Farmers of the Year, Glen and Julie Andreazza, who farm at Willbriggie near Griffith, are among those growing corn for the first time.

“I argued with my son, who is an accountant, the case to grow rice but he ran the numbers and just said ‘Dad, you can’t grow rice, it just doesn’t stack up’.

“We tossed around whether to grow sorghum or cotton and corn came out on top; it was a very heavy-hearted decision for me not to grow rice.”

The Murrumbidgee Valley, where the Andreazza family farms, has a 7 per cent general security water allocation and the temporary price for water is trading around $500 a megalitre.

“With the price of water at the moment, it’s probably not feasible to grow much, and it was tough to decide whether to sell the water or use it to grow crops,” Mr Andreazza said.

“But growing a crop helps with your mental stability, it’s actually pleasing to walk around something that is growing, it makes you feel better. I don’t like looking at bare paddocks.”

To ensure they can continue to farm under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and with reduced water allocations and drought, the Andreazzas developed a water portfolio that includes a mix of bore water, high security water, and general security water.

They also recycle water in their cropping program.

“All the water that comes onto the farm stays on the farm and is reused — it’s just so precious,” Mr Andreazza said.

Getting the numbers to stack up

Chris Morshead also planted corn for the first time on his property at Widgelli near Griffith.

His cropping program is based on “whatever makes the most money”.

Mr Morshead will harvest the corn crop in the next week and was keen to see its value.

“Looking at it now, I don’t think it will yield anything spectacular, it’s just been too hot this summer with too many days above 46 degrees,” he said.

“But hopefully I am pleasantly surprised when I get the header in the paddock.

“I’ll need to yield 12 to 14 tonnes a hectare for the numbers to stack up.”

Mr Morshead was able to plant 130 hectares of rice and 260 hectares of cotton, but was keen to trial corn and sunflowers this season.

“We are trying to get a bigger spread in our summer crop armoury,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how much water it uses, it’s about the return per megalitre.”

Corn more water efficient, says grower

Maize Association of Australia chair Bernie Walsh from Leeton is not a newcomer to growing corn.

He swapped out rice for corn more than 30 years ago as he found it more water efficient and better suited to the soil on his property.

Mr Walsh said water use was dependent on the variety of corn but ranged from five to 10 megalitres a hectare with yields of 16 tonnes a hectare now common.

“And the price is good at the moment at about $400 to $420 a tonne.”

He was not concerned there would be an oversupply as there was strong demand domestically for corn for stockfeed and human consumption.

“If water becomes a lot cheaper and the price stays where it is there could be a glut, but I can’t see that happening,” he said.

Near future not looking bright for rice

In the Murray Valley region, in the southern Riverina, general security water allocation remains at 0 per cent.

Deniliquin agronomist Adam Dellwo said this season only one of his farmers had grown rice.

“Last year I had 30 growers putting in rice, so this is a monumental step backwards,” Mr Dellwo said.

“Zero water allocation didn’t allow for many growers to have the confidence to plant very much summer crop at all,” he said.

Mr Dellwo said some growers were able to grow reduced crops of corn, cotton, sorghum and lucerne from bore water allocations.

He said it was a very difficult time for farmers in the Murray Valley as water allocations had not improved in time for their autumn planting.

“For many farmers, it’s the first time in a long time they haven’t planted a rice crop and now moving onto their winter cropping program is going to be very difficult as they are still sitting on zero water allocation,” he said.

Last year around 600,000 tonnes of rice was grown in the Riverina, while SunRice has forecast the 2019 crop to be the second smallest recorded since the millennium drought in 2003 when 400,000 tonnes of rice was delivered.

In November, Sunrice announced it would axe at least 100 jobs from its Deniliquin and Leeton millsdue to low water availability and high water prices.

The company reconfigured its milling, packaging and warehouse operations to prepare for the reduced rice crop that will be delivered in the coming weeks.

As for next summer, the Andreazza family is hopeful rice will be back on the agenda.

“I still drive past rice paddocks now and say it will be back, it will definitely be back. It’s in my heart,” Mr Andreazza said.

Source: ABC Rural – 2019-03

New South Wales dam plan brings flood of worry

The NSW government appears to be planning to raise parts of the Warragamba Dam wall significantly higher than it has said publicly.

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Leaked documents seen by AAP reporters suggest the wall will be designed to hold back an additional 17 metres of water, despite the Berejiklian Government saying it would only raise the flood level by 14 metres.

Additionally, the Government appears not to be assessing the environmental impact of the additional three-metre rise.

The documents reveal plans to lift the ends of the wall – the dam abutments – by 17 metres, but with a spillway initially set at 14 metres.

The design allows the spillway to be modified in the future.

Essentially, the wall will be “structurally” 17 metres high but have an “operational” height of 14 metres.

Traditional owners say the additional raising of the wall will flood hundreds of cultural sites. They also say the NSW Government has refused to act on potential new archaeological evidence uncovered in excavation work for the wall raising.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Western Sydney Minister Stuart Ayres both say the official number is correct.

“I ask you to rely on what’s in the public domain – that’s what we’ve announced (and) that’s what’s happening,” the Premier told reporters.

“We are very conscious of the environmental impacts that would occur upstream were we to raise it by more than that,” Mr Ayres said last year.

“Fourteen metres is what we are preparing a business case and an environmental impact statement for.”

The state’s Labor opposition says raising the wall is a ‘Trojan horse’ for more development on the flood plain.

Australian National University water expert Jamie Pittock says a higher wall would put more areas of the heritage-listed Blue Mountains at risk of inundation.

Source: WaterCareer – 2019-03

Why this is the most important map BOM has ever produced

The Bureau of Meteorology has produced arguably the most important weather forecast map of 2019, showing widespread rain in some of Queensland.

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BOM’s eight-day forecast shows 50mm-plus falls for the eastern half of the drought stricken Northern Territory and a big part of South West Queensland.

The bureau’s forecast shows Tropical Cyclone Trevor located over the northeast Gulf of Carpentaria is dominating the weather.

“The system is likely to continue to reintensify rapidly and is expected to take a more southwestward track across the Gulf, making landfall over the southwest Gulf coast most likely on Saturday,” the BOM forecast reads.

“A surface trough extends from north-west Queensland, through the central interior to the far south-east of the state. The trough will start to move slowly westwards today over southern parts of the state and will combine with moist air to its east to lead to mostly isolated showers and thunderstorms.

Then Cyclone Trevor is forecast to continue to move away from Queensland, possibly making landfall over the southeast Top End in Northern Territory.

By Sunday a surface trough over the southern parts of the state will combine with a new upper trough over the central Australia to lead to isolated showers and thunderstorms over the southern parts of the state, BOM says.

On Monday the new upper trough will strengthen and move eastwards combining with a surface trough over the southern and central interior as well as possibly the remnants of tropical cyclone Trevor, BOM says.

“This leads to showers, thunderstorms and rain areas over south-western and western districts. Isolated showers and thunderstorms over northern Queensland. Maximum temperatures will cool in the west and south-west as cloud cover and precipitation increases.”

BOM qualifies the forecast maps saying they are produced from computer models and contain no input from weather forecasters.

Fingers (and toes) crossed the machines have it right.

Source: Queensland Country Life – 2019-03

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

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