WA could be importing fresh food from Victoria in 10 years if agricultural sectors did not work with the State Government on water resource management.
This was a scenario put by South West Water and Rivers Commission (WRC) regional manager Wayne Tingey leading up to a water seminar held by the Royal Agricultural Society last Tuesday.
The water seminar was being held in a backdrop of increased competition for WA's scarce water resources and low run-off into dams.
According to the WRC, water use had doubled in the past 15 years and water resources were close to their sustainable limit, which was also when water management costs increased.
The State Government also hoped to take 45 gigilitres of water from the South West Yarragadee aquifer for Perth and introduce a water resource management fee on licensed dams. The Opposition wanted fees on Perth bores.
A tax only on licensed bores was also seen as unfair with claims that a grower advisory committee set up by WRC did not include agricultural groups who opposed management or consumption charges.
Meanwhile, the Government planned to take another 15gl from the Wellington dam.
The WRC says $50 million was being spent on water management each year and as management costs increased in line with diminished resources the question was whether self-supply water users should start sharing the costs.
A common view among agricultural producers was that though they made a living from agriculture, the water they used to grow crops was in response to demand for food from Perth.
There were also questions about how much water the government would allocate for the environment while water security, and property rights in water, were looming as major issues for agricultural producers.
Mr Tingey said there was no point in having water rights if there was no water and questioned if WA wanted to go down the same road as the Murray Darling catchment in eastern Australia where water had been over-allocated.
He said the Government could adopt two attitudes to water management, one being to act as environmental policeman in a self-regulated system or a preferred management approach, or where locals would also have their say.
He said the question for agriculture was how it needed to perform to compete with industry, mining and the public sector for water.
Mr Tingey said the next step was to set WA up for sustainable water use in the next 50 years.
"Unless we do the job properly we will be importing food from Victoria in 10 years," he said.
Mr Tingey said the $6 million six-month study being carried out into the South Yarragadee aquifer would complement other studies in the past 25-30 years but no action would be taken if the results did not prove robust.
He said the estimates of water available in the aquifer were put at about 350-450gl.
"45 gigs is not the end of the earth," he said.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Paul Omodei has claimed the State Government has not ruled out taking a further 90 million kilolitres of water from South West groundwater aquifers to service Perth.
Meanwhile a Legislative Council Parliamentary Committee will be formed to investigate the state's water supplies.