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Local irrigation scheme to stay with Sunwater

Operations and maintenance of the Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Scheme will remain with SunWater after it was assessed a transition to ownership and management by local irrigators was not in the best interests of locals and tax payers at the current time.

Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Deputy Director General of Water Linda Dobe said after consultation with local irrigators it was found there was not enough support to progress with a Local Management Arrangement.  “The extensive engagement with local irrigators and the community and the information collected have provided a deep understanding of the way in which these schemes operate and how they can improve,” Ms Dobe said.

“The process provided an opportunity for irrigators to take a close look at the complexities of operating irrigation schemes, and allowed for new thinking on ways of improving water efficiency.” Ms Dobe said for transition to local management there needed to be certainty about there being value for money in the transaction for tax payers, and significant user support – there was not enough certainty on these criteria to progress to the next stage.

“The Mareeba-Dimbulah irrigation scheme is vital to this region’s agricultural industry – I look forward to seeing the continued long-term sustainability of the scheme,” Ms Dobe said.  “SunWater will continue to operate the scheme as it has for over the past two decades and will work closely with irrigators to establish a new Mareeba-Dimbulah customer engagement process.

“I thank the Mareeba LMA board which was established for this scheme, for their passionate contribution to this process, in particular the board Chair, Joe Moro.”

Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Council Chair Joe Moro said while he is disappointed with the decision, LMA were just unable to garner enough support from local irrigators. “We put the most financially strong proposal to government, however it was above what they were prepared to pay,” he said. “And ultimately there wasn’t enough support from the irrigators to give government confidence to proceed.

“Many of the irrigators felt that SunWater was doing a good job, so they didn’t see the reasoning behind transitioning when there wasn’t going to be much difference in terms of price.” Mr Moro said there’s a probability that they’ll look at this again in the future. “At the end of the day, there might be changes in government policy that may impact irrigators, and as a result, LMA may become more accepted by the irrigators as a way forward to keep the price of water at the lowest possible cost,” he said.

“So it’s something that won’t be taken off the agenda for a long time yet.” Mr Moro said LMA’s proposal highlighted the need for pipe replacements, of which SunWater disagreed.

“There’s a huge need for pipe replacements in the scheme, which comes at a significant cost,” he said. “So if a decision is made down the line that there in fact is a need for pipe replacements that cost should come out of SunWater’s pocket, not the irrigators.”

For more on Local Management Arrangements for SunWater’s irrigation channels go to www.lmairrigation.com.au.

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