AN unprecedented seventh water deficiency in Western Australia has been declared in the eastern area of the Jerramungup shire and western area of the Ravensthorpe shire.
Water Minister Dave Kelly made the declaration recently for the area bounded by Jacup (Jacup Rd North) in the east of Jerramungup and Fitzgerald Road in Ravensthorpe.
The State government started carting emergency water supplies for animal welfare needs to the area on Thursday last week after a joint application by the shires on behalf of 10 farmers in the Jerramungup and Ravensthorpe areas was submitted.
A declaration is made as a last resort after continued dry conditions have depleted on-farm and local community water supplies.
The declaration will see the government cart an estimated 1800 kilolitres of water each week from Mt Barker, Katanning and Tambellup.
Water will be delivered to a new 250 kilolitre capacity tank at Fitzgerald in Ravensthorpe, reducing the distance farmers need to travel to source emergency livestock water.
Water carting arrangements are being managed by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) with support from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and the Water Corporation.
This is the seventh water deficiency to be declared in WA since May 2019, as dry conditions continue.
Water deficiencies have also been declared in other parts of the Ravensthorpe and Jerramunup shires, along with Lake Grace, Kent and Esperance (Grass Patch).
The State government has so far spent an estimated $4m on water carting since January 2019 and this could exceed $11m by the end of June.
DWER is liaising with local government authorities and farmers in other dryland areas to monitor their on-farm water storage and requirements.
The department is encouraging farmers to continue to return their farm water surveys and local government authorities to consider Community Water Supply Program grant applications in areas of need.
"The Great Southern agricultural region is experiencing extremely dry conditions following two years of well below average annual rainfall," Mr Kelly said.
"This has resulted in an unprecedented concurrent seven water deficiency declarations, well up on the previous record of two water deficiencies and there is the possibility of more to come.
"According to rainfall figures from the Bureau of Meteorology's weather station near Fitzgerald, the third and fourth driest years on record were 2018 (264.1millimetres) and 2019 (243.7mm).
"Over the past 12 months the State government has invested more than $1.5m in 34 projects designed to improve community water supplies, including work on dams, catchments and bores.
"We have never before seen such a high demand for water carting in the State.
Ravensthorpe farmer Mark Mudie was one of the 10 farmers who applied for water deficiency to be declared in the shire and while he was trying to stay positive, with an optimistic outlook on the coming season, he was just two weeks away from carting water due to the lack of significant rainfall.
Without rainfall he has no other source of water to fill his dams as the underground water, where it can be sourced, is too salty and there is no access to scheme water at the farmgate.
"It is a good thing that they have declared it water deficient - it was really needed," Mr Mudie said.
"Some farmers have been out of water for nearly 12 months but there has to be a certain number that is needed to declare it deficient."
Mr Mudie said one of his farms was already out of water and he had shifted the livestock off it and the other property was "about two weeks away" from running dry.
"I have rainfall records back to 1966 which was the time this area was allocated to become farms," he said.
"2018 and 2019 were the two driest we have had - and the rain fell in small amounts at a time not allowing much run-off into dams."
Mr Mudie said he had purchased water storage tanks to cart water from the Fitzgerald tank back to the farm, a 25 kilometre trip each way, as well as on-farm storage to avoid evaporation issues by filling the dams.
He said most farmers in the district had cleaned or desilted all their dry dams and upgraded the catchments ready to catch and store water when they do see some rainfall.
"The Ravensthorpe shire and our local farmer group, Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network, have worked together to upgrade the catchment and tanks at the Fitzgerald emergency water supply dam," Mr Mudie said.
"Everyone is doing what they can to be prepared for the future."
Mr Mudie said he was 80 per cent cropping and unlike some of his neighbours, he only had a small livestock operation.
He runs about 1100 ewes and was about three months away from being able to offload some stock to take more pressure on the farm.
"We are seven or eight weeks off lambing," Mr Mudie said.
"We can't sell them or send them to the abattoir because we are so close to lambing - we are committed to seeing them through.
"Then there's the six weeks of lambing and a further 10 weeks of weaning before we can offload to market.
"We understand that's going into autumn and winter and we are hoping for a normal season.
"We hope that it rains and we can get them through."
Mr Mudie said due to the larger cropping program they had lots of stubbles for the sheep to feed on but some of his neighbours were not so fortunate and "had it hard" with confinement feeding and "full time feeding and water carting".
He was also concerned that the little rain that have received recently was enough to germinate weeds but they were not able to access water for spraying.
"The water is not available for spraying, only for livestock," Mr Mudie said.
"It is causing some concern as there is no alternative way at the moment to deal with this."
Mr Mudie said desalination plants had been part of the discussion for farmers to utilise ground water.
"It looks promising but you need to find water close to a power source to be able to do that efficiently," he said.
"A generator would be too costly as they run the plant 24 hours a day."
Ravensthorpe deputy shire president Jules Belli said they had been carting water for 18 months at her family farm at Mt Short, north of Ravensthorpe, which had been declared water deficient previously.
"For 18 months we have been carting water, cleaning out dams and it's not getting any better yet," Ms Belli said,
"We have only received 5mm of rain so far this year.
"From last year until now we have cleaned out 54 dams and we've received no substantial rainfall yet."
Ms Belli said the family had to "adapt to the conditions" and destocked 30 head of cattle "early on" to free up pastures for their sheep flock.
They run about 1000 ewes.
They crop about 8000 hectares of wheat, barley, lupins, as well as peas and beans depending on the conditions and the market.
"We usually start dry and hope for rain," Ms Bell said.