Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water last week shut down the Northern Mallee pipeline’s Pental Island pump station east of Swan Hill after a massive blue-green algal bloom along the Murray River, forcing GWMW to halt diversions to 451 farmers.
The toxic blue-green algae has hit levels that put people and livestock at risk. Blue green algal concentrations are also on the rise at GWM Water’s pumping stations downstream of Swan Hill, at Nyah and Piangil. The water corporation expects it will eventually be forced to close both stations.
Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said quick access to $10,000 Victorian Government infrastructure grants will be important to the Mallee farmers affected by the shutdown of the pipeline.
The Victorian Government yesterday announced a $10m Drought Support Fund , including $1.5m for Farm Risk Management Grants, with farmers able to claim $3000 to do a business plan and up to another $7000 for training or to build on-farm infrastructure to help manage climatic risks. Most of the farmers depending on the pipeline water are sheep producers and many have been forced to cart water to stock.
“There will be blokes out there with 3000 sheep, they are going to want more than one tank,” Mr Anderson said.
He believed the $10,000 grants should be used by affected farmers for water storage.
“The sooner they can cut the red tape and get that out there it is going to be of some help.”
Manangatang farmer and VFF member Brian Barry urged farmers on the Northern Mallee pipeline to use the $10,000 drought grants to install tanks on their properties to store at least three days’ supply.
“The current blue-green algal bloom and consequent shut down of the pipeline last weekend highlights just how important it is to have a reserve on hand to deal with such emergencies,” Mr Barry said.
“We know that there are a large number of farmers who don’t have tanks on their properties to act as a reserve.”
Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said the situation along the Murray had become critical, with many farmers across the northern Mallee now faced with the prospect of carting water.
The VFF said unfortunately not all farmers can be supplied using reverse pumping and many farmers have not installed tanks to store three days’ supply on farm, relying instead on diverting pipeline water direct to their stock troughs. Many farmers may be forced to cart water from hydrants, which GMW has made available at seven sites across the northern Mallee. This stock water is available free of charge to rural customers, but they will have to cover their own cartage costs.
GMW has also offered to deliver 28,000 litres of water for domestic use to rural customers, free of charge and the VFF is seeking advice as to whether environmental water can be used to ease the impact of the algal bloom.
Crisis meeting in Sea Lake
GWM Water chairman Peter Vogel and managing Director Mark Williams will outline the impacts of the blue-green algal bloom at the crisis meeting at the Sea Lake and Districts Community Centre on March 15 from 6pm.
GWM Water will also discuss the corporation’s strategy for dealing with the crisis, by reverse pumping from town storages, repeated testing at Murray River pumping stations to make opportunistic use of water when blue green algae levels drop and promoting the use of on-farm storage.
Agriculture Victoria will also attend the meeting to give farmers a run down on how to access the State Government’s $10m Drought Support Fund, which includes $10,000 grants for on-farm infrastructure – such as storage tanks.
VFF vice-president David Jochinke said the meeting would give farmers plenty of opportunities to ask questions of GWM Water and Agriculture Victoria.
“We’ve got Agriculture Victoria to come along, so farmers can learn how to tap into this $10 million drought fund, which includes $10,000 risk management grants.
“With the current crisis, it makes sense that farmers use this money to install tanks that give then at least three days’ supply in case the pipeline is shut down,” Mr Jochinke said.
$10m Drought Support Fund extends help to 11 shires
Farmers across 11 western Victorian shires have been given access to risk management grants of up to $10,000 and a second round of $2000 stock containment grants under the State Government’s $10 million Drought Support Fund.
Mr Tuohey said the funding will help farmers deal with the impacts of drought and the ongoing dry conditions, which are undermining the carrying capacity of many farms after repeated seasons of low rainfall and stock water shortages.
“I’m also glad to see the government has extended drought support to the Ararat shire, which means 11 shires are now covered by the fund.”
The Drought Support Fund now covers Ararat, Buloke, Yarriambiack, Loddon, Northern Grampians, Horsham, Hindmarsh, Gannawarra, Pyrenees, Central Goldfields and West Wimmera shires.
Mr Tuohey said the VFF hoped farmers would use the grants to secure on-farm stock and domestic water supplies where they could, as well as any other infrastructure or financial training they might need to cope with drought.
“However, the VFF will continue to lobby the government to deliver more support, especially for water tanks and emergency piping to deliver stock and domestic water, as well as funds for water carting.”
Mr Tuohey said the VFF is arguing the government should at least ensure water is made available to farmers, free of charge, at standpipes in drought-affected areas.
“While cartage – fuel and driver time – is the greatest cost, we’d like to see the government working with water corporations to ensure farmers don’t have to pay for the actual water.
“While some farmers are getting access to free water, we’ve got others paying $5 a kilolitre for standpipe supplies,” Mr Tuohey said.
Wedderburn farmer Graeme Nesbit, said many farmers were spending three hours a day, carting water or paying others thousands of dollars to keep their stock watered.
“At least making the water itself available free of charge at stand pipes would help and go some way to easing the pain,” Mr Nesbit said. “We’d also like to get some funding to buy water tanks.”
The $10 million Drought Support Fund includes:
• $1.5m for Farm Risk Management Grants, with farmers able to claim $3000 to do a business plan and up to another $7000 for training or to build on-farm infrastructure to help manage climatic risks.
• $620,500 for stock containment areas, with farmers able to claim grants of up to $2000 to build stock containment areas on their properties. (This is in addition to the $600,000 already allocated to the scheme).
• $3.15m towards a drought employment program administered by catchment management authorities.
• $655,000 for the Government’s drought extension program, delivering advice on drought management, farmer health and animal welfare.
• $320,000 to employ two rural financial counsellors in the north-west and western regions.
• $120,000 for local councils to run community events.
• $80,000 for Foodbank to establish new refrigeration facilities to store donated produce.
• $2.98m for community sport and recreation grants to fund water efficiency projects at sports grounds and buy uniforms, equipment and support skills programs.
Source: VFF, Minister for Agriculture.