Dry times: With water levels at Leslie dam dropping below 15,000 megalitres irrigators in the upper Condamine region will not receive their anticipated water allocation.
The upper Condamine irrigation region is expected to lose an estimated $7million worth of chickpeas with SunWater unable to fill their anticipated water allocation.
In February, SunWater announced growers in the upper Condamine would receive 32 per cent of their allocations with sufficient water stored in Leslie dam to deliver this promise.
Only last week, the key body for water infrastructure development and management revealedall was not as rosy as first thought.
According to Central Downs Irrigators chairman Lindsay Krieg, SunWater called a ‘panic’ meeting to inform irrigators dam levels had dropped significantly, meaning growers had gone from 100 per cent of the announced allocation to just 20 per cent in six weeks.
“We’ve got some pretty serious questions as to how exactly that happened and why we weren’t informed,” Mr Krieg said.
“Most people would have taken their water back in February had they known they weren’t going to get it now- we had no information from SunWater whatsoever to let us know that water wouldn’t be available.”
Mr Krieg said SunWater held another urgent meeting yesterday to work out how they could deliver the water.
“They keep coming up with this excuse that this happens in other catchments all the time. We don’t care what happens elsewhere, it’s never happened here,” he said.
“They’re blaming it on the weather and saying there’s been unprecedented heat in the last two months and that’s fine, but why didn’t they tell us our allocations were being reduced at all times?”
To meet the allocationSunWater were required to deliver 5000 megalitres of water and therefore needed 6000 megalitresto cover evaporation losses.
Mr Krieg said SunWater currently had2500 megalitres remaining and only 1000 megalitres would be released to irrigators.
“They’re going to lose 1500 megalitres just filling up the river to get the water to the end,” he said.
“We’re about 4000 megalitres short and I’ve worked that out to equal$7million worth of chickpeas.That’s a conservative figure- it’s a nightmare.”
Mr Krieg said under the 2009 resource operations plan (ROP) no irrigation water could be released after dam levels reached 15,000 megalitres.
“Very few people were aware that rule existed and SunWater even seems to have missed it,” he said.
“We have no information we can base that on apart from the fact that there is no other explanation- they stuffed up and forgot about their 15,000 megalitre rule.”
Growers say they are angry they were unable to make informed management decisions resulting from the decline in available irrigation water.
A SunWater spokesperson said there were many misconceptions around irrigation allocations getting in the way of facts.
“An announced allocation is not a guarantee of available water, it’s based on water available at that time so if conditions change as they did at Leslie dam, the full allocation can’t happen,” the spokesperson said.
SunWater also denied allegations of overlooking the ROP and said information on dam levels was available online at any time.
“We give them daily storage reports and 12 month outlooks. Lesliedam has been going down since 2013 and they know about this, they know about the ROPso they should know what they’redealing with in terms of the current situation,” she said.
“If we started to give predictions of the water we think they might get, people start to assume that’sgospel and it can’t be because it depends on the weather.
“We put the tools in their hands andlet them make judgements based on their knowledge of that landscape aslots have been there for generations.”
Mr Krieg describedSunWater’s response as inadequate and said he believed the “people at the top” did not know of the dam level decline.
“If the local SunWater staff knewthis was happening they’d have told us, and if they weren’t being told from the top I’d say the people in control didn’t know,” he said.
“They’re sayingthis is our business and weshould be managing this to know how much water is left in the dam.
“No, it’s their business. Theyoperate the dams not us. How are we supposed to interpret dam levels to know how much of our announced allocation is being lost?”
Mr Krieg said many growers saved their water allocation for chickpeas and forewent irrigating cotton crops as a result.
“People have forward sold chickpeas on the back of that allocation announcementand now they can’t fill those contracts- it’s a complete debacle.”
Following discussions with the Upper Condamine Irrigation Advisory Committee yesterdayit was agreed that the remaining medium priority water available in Leslie dam would be released to irrigators next week.
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