A STORAGE on a tributary of the Mitchell River is needed to secure water for the vegetable industry, writes DAVID McKERRELL
The Mitchell River Catchment Agricultural Business Association believes it is time our politicians forgot about political point-scoring and focused on the best water-security option for all who are reliant on the Mitchell River.
Water security through construction of a tributary storage in the Mitchell River catchment is vital for sustaining the food industry and maintain jobs.
It is also essential to provide a reliable domestic water supply for one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia and to maintain the environmental heath of the lower reaches of both the Mitchell River and the Gippsland Lakes.
Independent MP Craig Ingram and Liberal MP Philip Davis say the MRCABA wants to dam the Mitchell River. We don't. We support a tributary storage.
Mr Ingram and Mr Davis' reasons for raising the issue of a dam on the Mitchell and opposing a tributary storage are based on their belief that a tributary storage would be taking water away from the Gippsland Lakes.
That could not be further from the truth for these reasons:
- Water in a tributary storage would be the same water from the same source that would be stored in their preferred off-river storages.
- MRCABA opposes a dam on the Mitchell River, but strongly supports a tributary storage in the Wentworth River valley.
- The location is close to the water exit point of the Lakes. Water entering the Lakes from The Cut and Mitchell River mouth only benefits the shallow waters of Jones Bay and Lake King and has minimal effect on the eastern end of Lake Victoria and has no beneficial effect on Lake Reeve, The Backlake or Lake Wellington.
- The cost of the Meander Dam in Tasmania was reported to be $23.5 million and it holds about 40,000 megalitres.
- Because off-river storages are by their nature relatively small, you would need to build 40 of them at a cost of around $120 million just to store half that amount of water.
- The enormous amount of land required on which to build that many storages is not available..
- The $3 million-plus cost of infrastructure is well outside the financial capacity of many Mitchell valley farmers.
- The Mitchell River Flats are some of the most fertile land in Australia and are needed for food production - not storing water.
- The soil type of the river flats is unsuitable for building dams.
- A study commissioned by MRCABA in 2007 and conducted by RM Consulting Group found the cost of water from a tributary storage would be only 61 per cent of that from an off-river storage.
- To pump large volumes of water to off-river storages would require large amounts of fossil fuel.
- The electricity supply infrastructure needed to service the pumps required to fill 40 off-stream storages would need large scale upgrading.
- RM Consulting Group found there were irrigation restrictions in 75 per cent of years and irrigation was banned in 17 per cent of years. It also found the average available extraction was only 55 per cent of allocation.
- Off-river storages do not provide environmental benefits because they do not allow for the controlled release of environmental flows.
The MRCABA has suggested the Wentworth River as a suitable location as the site is one of two sites that were extensively surveyed by the State Electricity Commission in 1928 as having the ability to provide water for hydro-electricity generation. The Wentworth Valley has little environmental or commercial value.
The other site selected was on the Mitchell River. The minimal carbon footprint of hydro-electricity generation is something that can't be ignored.
There are three levels of benefits that would come from a tributary storage:
- Economic Benefits: Production from the Mitchell River flats directly sustains more than 1000 full-time jobs, with thousands more indirect jobs reliant on it. The vegetable industry is one of the largest wealth creators for East Gippsland.
- Social Benefits: East Gippsland is one of the fastest-growing regions in Victoria and this growth requires a sustainable water supply.
- Environmental Benefits: A recent study commissioned by the East Gippsland CMA indicates the environmental flow in the lower Mitchell River needs to be about 95 megalitres a day.
In most years, the only way that an environmental flow of that size could be maintained would be by the release of water from a tributary storage.
- David McKerrell is secretary of the Mitchell River Catchment Agricultural Business Association and a Lindenow landowner