PIPELINE DREAMING: Atkinson Dam farmer Dale Burns cautiously optimistic about the irrigation scheme proposal, but said the devil was in the details. Picture: Dominic Elsome
PIPELINE DREAMING: Atkinson Dam farmer Dale Burns cautiously optimistic about the irrigation scheme proposal, but said the devil was in the details. Picture: Dominic Elsome

Farmer: Pipeline has to be affordable and reliable to work

THE PROMISE of an additional 50,000ML of water for the region has been hailed as a game changer by proponents of the Wivenhoe Pipeline proposal.

But for farmers who have been promised pipedreams before, there’s a lot of questions which remain unanswered.

Atkinson Dam farmer Dale Burns grows corn, green beans, grain and peanuts on his 243ha property.

The chance for additional water is one he won’t turn his nose up at, but the devil is in the details for himself and many other irrigators.

“It’s all well and good but it’s got to be at an affordable price,” Mr Burns said.

The recent presentation of the strategic business case for the irrigation scheme gave farmers the first look at what they might expect from the new supply.

With water proposed to be piped from Lake Wivenhoe into the region’s underperforming irrigation dams and then distributed to customers – the cost isn’t going to be cheap.

Estimates for water prices are still extremely wide-ranging, with a more realistic price to be realised following the demand assessment and detailed business case currently underway.

But Mr Burns said the scheme wouldn’t work if it was too pricey.

“Even the price they want per megalitre – I said to a couple of people ‘what are you going to grow to make any money out of that’ and they said dope was about the only thing,” he said.

The price final price is expected to be far lower than the more extreme range of figures quoted.

Water reliability is also a concern for Mr Burns, with the scheme estimated to run at a 70 per cent reliability.

“If you’re going pay that much for it, you’re going to want to have it there all the time,” he said.

He was worried that given the water would be sourced from Lake Wivenhoe – the southeast’s major drinking-water supply – urban customers would be prioritised over farmers who would have forked out vast sums of money to access the irrigation scheme.

“That’s all well and good – they can give all the water to Brisbane, but if the farmers don’t have (water) well Brisbane’s up shit creek anyway,” he said.

But despite the concerns he has, Mr Burns won’t look a gift horse in the mouth and said it was exciting a genuine proposal was finally on the table after years of worthless rhetoric.

“It might not be here for this drought, it might be here for the next one but it’s good that they’ve got a plan,” he said.

“For years they’ve been saying ‘we’ll do something, we’ll do something’ – then it rains, the dams get water and it’s all forgotten about.”