GO to where the water is.

15 Feb, 2007 07:00 PM
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But ultimately, it may all depend on more land being opened up.

Mr Kelly and the OIC, owned by 39 major growers and 57 shareholders, are responsible for the management and operation of the Ord River Irrigation Area.

The stage one irrigation area covers about 14,000ha, on which sugarcane occupies the most land, with 3995ha in 2006.

The OIC holds licences to divert 335gL of water per annum, just a small portion of the 10,765gL capacity of Lake Argyle dam.

The diversion dam holds 100gL of water and is used as the hold head for the irrigation area.

However, Mr Kelly said at the moment, the entire stage one area was being used, which meant if new growers came to the area or existing farmers wanted to get bigger ‹ they simply could not.

So the idea of shifting farmers north is not as simple as people may have thought, and all the focus on the area has highlighted the need for more land to be opened up.

Herein lies the debate about the Ord River Irrigation Area Stage Two, which could open up a further 7000 to 16,000ha of farming land.

Little visible progress had been made with Stage Two, but in September last year the State Government called for expressions of interest.

Mr Kelly said the majority of the community were hoping that Stage Two would go ahead in the near future.

³The irrigated area covers the original scheme but there is a lot of potential not being fulfilled,² he said.

³There is a lot of water in the top dam and if stage two goes ahead then the whole dam will be used ‹ every drop should be utilised.²

³I would love to see stage two be developed.

³And I am pleased to see that they are looking north, and I think the local people want to see it happen.²

Mr Kelly also dismissed ideas of channelling water from the north to the southern regions.

³The idea of moving water from here to the south is dead, the work has been done and it is simply not economically viable,² he said.

³The whole water thing is massive and will continue to get bigger, and if the whole climate change thing is correct then the north is only going to get wetter.³

The majority of growers in the area use furrow irrigation and flood irrigate.

Mr Kelly said the irrigation system works effectively but the OIC was always looking at way of becoming more efficient.

He said unlike the problems in the east, over-allocation would not happen in the valley.

The Ord River Irrigation Area is divided into two areas ‹ Packsaddle and Ivanhoe ‹ and consists of 150km of drains and 160km of channels with 220 check structures.

According to Mr Kelly, the OIC receives about 2000 water requests from growers each year.

Water is charged according to three different components: a fixed charge of $41/irrigated hectare, an asset charge of $52/irrigated ha and a volumetric charge of $2.49/megalitre delivered, equating to $136/irrigated ha.

The production area is known as the valley and covers a diverse mix of crops.

In the past few years sandalwood has increased in popularity and occupied 2182ha last year, followed by cucurbits with 1407.75ha and hybrid seeds with 1313.5ha.

Other crops in the area include leucaena, mangoes, chickpeas, beans, sweetcorn and citrus.

Sugarcane and tree plantations required the most water.

Northern Development Group (NDG) chief executive officer Peter Cottle is one man who has recognised the potential of the area and would like to see it developed further.

Mr Cottle spent 17 years in the irrigation industry in Queensland and NSW and originally came to Kununurra when he was involved in crop trials in the mid-1990s.

He came back through in 2004 with his wife and could see big opportunities in the area, so he moved here in October last year.

NDG was then formed by Mr Cottle, two locals and a man from Darwin and was aimed at looking at the prospects in irrigation and grazing.

The company has many projects on the go and just obtained a further 1300ha of land known as Green Swamp, of which the majority will be developed with a mixture of crops.

Mr Cottle said one of their focuses was in the Ord Stage Two development, which NDG could see big promise in.

³The area is blessed with good water, good soils and a good growing climate,² he said.

³The plusses far outweigh the minuses ‹ it will be a tragedy if Ord River Irrigation Area Stage Two doesn¹t go ahead.

³I believe with good planning and co-operation with State and Federal Government we can expand into a world leading irrigation area.²

Mr Cottle said timber would have a very important role to play in stage two and had positive environmental impacts.

He said the timing was right for the area to be developed further.

³The environment is right to development, we don¹t have to dam a river ‹ it has already been done,² Mr Cottle said.

³We¹ve got a body of water that¹s only partly utilised.

³I¹m a strong believer in the Stage Two project and would like to be a part of it.²

Mr Cottle said he thought Stage Two would be an exciting project and would expand the types of irrigation used in the valley.

He said there was much more that could be done in the valley that had yet to be explored, such as the possibility of environmentally friendly fuel production.

Whether or not Stage Two meant new growers would be drawn to the area was debateable, but Mr Cottle said existing growers in the area had plenty to offer.

³We¹ve got a core group of growers with good experience behind them and it¹s with that experience that we should be moving into stage two,² he said.

³Science is starting to suggest that the south is getting drier and the north is getting wetter.

³We need to find a balance ‹ we need to maintain the pristine state and take environmental issues into account whilst tapping into the potential.²

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