On Thursday the 17th of May 2016, the pipeline to the Golden Plains Food Production Precinct was officially opened. The dignitaries included Cr Des Phelan, Mayor, Golden Plains Shire, Jo Plummer, Chair, Barwon Water, and Ms Sarah Henderson Federal MP for Corangamite,
To the intensive animal farming industry, this would have been a welcome announcement, but for many who know of the desperate plight of the Moorabool River it represented water moving out of the catchment and another blow to the prospects of relieving the flow stress of the most over-allocated river in the state.
If the water had come, as some thought it might, via a connection with Geelong, or a recycled source, many people would have applauded the project. However, that is not where the water is drawn. It comes directly from the Moorabool River. While Barwon Water is quick to say there will be no increase in its Bulk Entitlements, it will have to almost certainly more fully exploit those allocations because of this scheme.
How much water will be removed from the Moorabool River each year to supply the Precinct when fully developed?
According to the report commissioned by the Golden Plains Shire Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006), the answer is 900ML per year. This volume is equal to completely emptying the She Oaks Weir (pictured) of every drop of water every 2 months. It also represents about 75% of the average annual amount of water released from the Lal Lal Reservoir by Barwon Water over the last 5 years.
In their 2012-2062 Water Supply Demand Strategy (page 43) Barwon Water addressed community concerns about the authority's reliance on such a flow stressed river;
"The Moorabool system will contribute a smaller percentage of our water supply as new sources are commissioned. However when water is available in the Moorabool system, it provides drinking water at a low cost to customers." (Click here for full report)
If this 'low cost drinking water' from the Moorabool River is now being diverted to broiler farms and piggeries it stands to reason it will need to be sourced it from somewhere more expensive, thus inevitably forcing pressure on water bills for families in Geelong.
How much weight was given to the condition of the Moorabool River by the proponents?
Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006), which underpins this project, states:
"There are two main reservoirs in the Moorabool system. The White Swan Reservoir in the north (fed by the East Moorabool system)and the Lal Lal Reservoir in the south (fed by the West Moorabool system)." (Click here for full report)
The White Swan Reservior is in fact fed by the West not the East Moorabool system. In our opinion the report showed, in a number of instances, inadequate understanding of the Moorabool River systems and was practically devoid of any real acknowledgement of the parlous condition of the river.
The Golden Plains Shire web site claims;
"The 'Investing in Intensive Agriculture' (September 2006) report proposes a $11.4 million infrastructure project to provide a dedicated water supply to intensive farm operations in the Shelford-Meredith corridor, while freeing up the local reticulated water supply for small communities such as Lethbridge."
It is difficult to understand what water would be 'freed up'.
Questions for Barwon Water.
Given your position “The Moorabool system will contribute a smaller percentage of our water supply as new sources are commissioned. However when water is available in the Moorabool system, it provides drinking water at a low cost to customers.”
- How does the precinct development fit in with your commitment to the Moorabool River?
- If such 'low cost drinking water' is now to be used to service piggeries and broiler farms where is Barwon Water looking to source drinking water to replace these volumes?
- Is that source going to be more expensive than water from the Moorabool River?
- If those sources will cost more how will this impact the water bills of ordinary Geelong families?
- Were the growing volumes of water available from the Bannockburn Treatment Plant considered as a water source for this project? If not why not?
Questions for the Golden Plains Shire Council
A local farmer on the Lower Moorabool thinks that “This is just another case of water leaving the catchment and not being available to us.”
- How hard has the council lobbied for less water to be taken from the Moorabool river by water authorities like Barwon Water so that both the environment and the existing farms and businesses in the Lower Moorabool can have better water security?
- What response does the council have to the farmers and businesses in the lower Moorabool who are restricted in the times they can pump from the river because of continuing low flows?
- Did the council make a submission to the State Government's recent Water Plan Discussion Paper on behalf of those farms and businesses or the environment? If not why not?
- What measures will the Council take to ensure that world's best practice water efficiency and reuse is adopted within the precinct?
- How does this project supposedly 'free up' the local reticulated water supply for small communities such as Lethbridge?
Question for Sarah Henderson MP
You officially opened the pipeline to the Precinct on the 17th of May. Six years ago, as the then candidate for Corangamite, you met with locals at the river and were very supportive of efforts to lobby for increased environmental flows for the Moorabool River.
- Given the increased commercial demand for water from the Moorabool, such as through the Intensive Agriculture Precint, where do you envisage this increase in environmental flows will come from?
It should be remembered that water for this Precinct is mainly harvested high in the Moorabool catchment and is channeled and piped to the storage on the Midland highway. Water taken by users in the lower section of the Moorabool has instead travelled most of the length of the river, sustaining the environment as it passes.
It is understandable that some might take the view that this new project is a trade off - guaranteeing water to broiler farms and piggeries outside the catchment at the expense of improved water security for existing farms and other businesses in the Lower Moorabool.