AT FACE value the news that Bayer plans to invest $14 million in a breeding centre at Horsham, nice story that it is, doesn’t appear to have too much consequence for the decision makers at the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
Drill down a little deeper and the Bayer deal emphasises the importance of reliable water to a region, and how water politics don’t need to be a game of us and them between irrigators and environmentalists.
One of the major reasons Bayer decided to set up its centre in Horsham was the access to reliable water, through the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline project, one of the biggest bilateral success stories of the 2000s and proof that investment in water infrastructure, rather than irrigation buy-backs are the key to sustainable MDB communities.
Go back five years, when Wimmera-Mallee Water’s storages sat at just over 2pc, with thousands of megalitres of water evaporating through the old open channel system.
Now, in spite of being located in one of Victoria’s most arid regions, the Wimmera-Mallee has one of the more secure water systems, with enough surplus to allow regular environmental flows up the Wimmera River and fill recreational lakes.
This model should be looked at when making decisions on the serious water users on the Murray and Murrumbidgee systems.
Irrigation system improvements are occurring, but if the MDBA was to be truly bold, it would recommend a full overhaul of all irrigation infrastructure, rather the quick-fix of buy-outs of irrigation water to satisfy environmental requirements.
Yes, it’s going to be ludicrously expensive, but it is the kind of nation-building investment that is desperately needed if Australia’s major catchment is going to be able to both remain healthy environmentally and continue its role as the food bowl of the nation.
Irrigation technology is now so sophisticated, with every drop of water being used as efficiently as possible, with moisture probes indicating when water is needed and systems to ensure evaporation is minimised.
It’s a shame that so many losses still occur on delivering the water.
We acknowledge that this is a big, bold call to commit to billions of dollars of investment.
However, given the likelihood of less run-off and hotter temperatures in the future, can we afford to do anything less with the most precious resource on our arid continent?
There’s a perfect case study of how big picture thinking on water can reenergise a region with the Wimmera Mallee pipeline, we now issue the challenge to governments to be bold and invest a world class water delivery system.