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Brunt of water crisis falls on farmers and rural regions

AFTER several La Nina summers and floods, the challenges of the Millennium drought have been consigned to history by many policy makers in Brisbane.

But what is not forgotten is the nuts and bolts infrastructure that was hurriedly built to protect south-east Queensland's urban population from the looming water crisis, including massively expensive projects such as the Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme.

A current Queensland Government inquiry by the Queensland Audit Office is specifically looking at these water infrastructure assets, what they are costing the state, and how they might be used.

The Queensland Government should undertake a comprehensive development appraisal into the supply of fit-for-purpose water for irrigation from the Western Corridor Recycle Water Scheme.

The infrastructure should be put to use in ways that can ensure the state can reap some economic gain from its expense to build.

In short, keeping this infrastructure into mothballs - at a cost of $11.3 million a year - may seem on the surface to be the cheapest option, but ensuring it can deliver economic activity and development is a far more sensible and pragmatic approach. It is also one that links with the State Government's objective of doubling the value of agricultural production by 2040.

QFF has joined with irrigators from the Lockyer Valley to advocate for the supply of recycled water fit for irrigation to and from the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme. This infrastructure exists, but is underutilised and likewise, is unlikely to be used to supply urban water any time soon, if ever.

The feasibility of supplying between 15,000-25,000 megalitres of potable recycled water from the scheme to the Lockyer was investigated as part of the overall project when it was first mooted almost 20 years ago.

The sticking point is the astronomical costs of this water. The Queensland Audit Office had assessed costs at over $950 a megalitre, excluding substantial annual costs to maintain the scheme assets.

The QFF submission recommended the Queensland Government should undertake a comprehensive development appraisal into the supply of fit-for-purpose water for irrigation from the Western Corridor Recycle Water Scheme.

We know it would be difficult to initiate such a scheme unless governments are prepared to work to secure the longer term benefits of such a project as part of a strategic economic development initiative for the western rural areas of the south east Queensland.

The Lockyer Valley accounts for about 40% of south-east Queensland's annual fresh vegetable consumption, and it is no secret that with its fertile soils and proximity to the growing south-east Queensland population it has even greater potential to grow.

It is clear there are a number of impediments to supplying this water to farms in south-east Queensland, but it is the job of the State Government to overcome these impediments and work with industry and irrigators to ensure growth of rural industry.

Topics:  joanne grainger qff