Water move powers farms

By Hugh Christie on
03 March 2023

The Tasmanian government last week proposed to amend the Irrigation Company Act 2011, to facilitate a collaborative approach to assist the Tamar Valley Irrigation Scheme to proceed. This will allow Tasmanian Irrigation to supply its first industrial customers at the Bell Bay Hydrogen Hub and signals a significant opportunity for farmers, Tasmanian Irrigation, the government, and industry to partner as custodians of this valuable resources through the shared infrastructure (with suitable protections for agriculture).

These protections are why the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association is happy to provide in-principle support for the Tamar irrigation scheme and the green hydrogen plant on behalf of our members. These proposed measures will ensure that the supply of water to underpin investment in new industries does not impact the availability or price of water delivered to farmers, with the potential for this to actually result in lower costs to farmers due to efficiency of scales from a larger scheme.

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It should also be remembered that this ability to continue to develop new irrigation schemes and water dependant industries is something we should be proud of in Tasmania, and we all need to continue to work together to ensure a sustainable framework for water use in Tasmania.

The alternative can be seen in other regions across Australia, such as the Murray Darling Basin where farmers and communities have recently been impacted by the Federal Government’s decision to recommence water buybacks due to a history of over-allocation and environmental impacts during droughts.

This decision by the Federal Government has created uncertainty and negatively impacted farmers' and their communities' livelihoods and will ultimately impact Australia's food supply. The National Farmers Federation argues that these buybacks have no clear scope or boundaries and only create further uncertainty.

The alternative can be clearly seen in Tasmania through efforts such as the development of the Rural Water Use Strategy by the Government (ensuring a sustainable allocation framework going forwards), investment in river health works through NRM and Landcare Groups, and the willingness to look for opportunities to work together for shared benefits (like we are seeing with the Tamar Valley Irrigation Scheme).

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This provides the opportunities to learn from the mistakes of others, to ensure that our rural water demands for both irrigation and renewable energy are supported by healthy waterways, giving our irrigators confidence to continue to invest in their businesses.

However, we also need to ensure that as part of this, we continue to ensure we balance the competing demands for water. An example of this is the need to focus on ensuring irrigators aren’t forgotten when the operation of hydro schemes increasingly targets peak power prices, and reduces the reliability of irrigation by shutting off because the price is too low in the middle of the day.

For these reasons, it is also crucial that farmers are consulted to secure the long-term future of our water supply. This will allow Tasmania to be positioned as not only a leader in the sustainable production of food and fibre, but also in the renewable energy economy, where we as Tasmanians, should benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy as producers and consumers.

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As the largest advocacy group in Tasmania and the only one that focuses exclusively on farming and the rural sector, the future of Tasmanian agriculture is our focus.

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