Irrigators on the Bundaberg water supply scheme are coming to terms with their recently announced allocations (AA) for the 2021-22 water year.

With recent rainfall recorded across the Wide Bay region over the weekend, some growers were rewarded with widespread falls and inflows into their on-farm dams.

The rain arrived just after Sunwater released a statement on Friday July 2, announcing medium priority allocations for the Burnett sub-scheme, other wise known as Paradise Dam, are 22 per cent.

Medium priority allocations for the Kolan sub-scheme (Fred Haigh Dam) are 98pc, while high priority allocations for both sub-schemes are 100pc.

The AA for Bundaberg growers is slightly higher than the 14 and 17pc prediction Sunwater released back in June.

A spokesperson for Sunwater said the 2021-22 water year allocations cannot decrease as dam capacity levels reduce.

“It is important to note that should inflows occur allocations can increase to a maximum of 100 per cent, as they did during the 2020-21 water year,” the spokesperson said.

“We understand the significant pressure drought conditions are having.

“Over the last 24 months the Burnett has seen some of the lowest rainfall on record for the region. Across the catchment, prevailing dry conditions have impacted all Sunwater water storages.

“Sunwater is hopeful the rainfall forecast in coming days delivers inflows to water storages in the Bundaberg region, and provides a boost to the announced allocations.”

Sunwater said it will continue to work with customers to ensure there is as much water available as possible for irrigators and the community.

Bundaberg businesses feel impact  

Irrigators and business owners in the Bundaberg region fear the district will be plunged back into the economic stagnation of the 1990s and early 2000s after the formal release of the announced allocations.

Local business owner, Tony Denton, Adds Up Engineering, has operated an engineering business in the Bundaberg region for 23 years and employs almost 20 staff.

Mr Denton said he remembers how tough it was in this area before Paradise Dam was built back in 2005.

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, in particular, things got really tough due to low water allocations for local farmers,” Mr Denton said.

“To learn that in 2021 farmers have been given an AA of 22pc, it’s like a bad dream”.

“My business relies on building equipment for farmers. If farmers are struggling it puts a lot of pressure on my business to keep my 20 staff in a job.”

Mr Denton paid $1.4 million in wages last year including pay roll tax, but if things continue to slow down he fears jobs will be lost.

“People may not realise it yet, but Bundaberg is about to go through another tough time because the low water allocation farmers are receiving from Paradise Dam will have a big impact on local jobs and local spending,” he said.

“To be brutally honest, jobs will be lost in my business if farmers stop ordering new equipment.”

AA HISTORY: This graph showcases the historically low announced allocations which Bundaberg growers from 1995-2003 faced.
 AA HISTORY: This graph showcases the historically low announced allocations which Bundaberg growers from 1995-2003 faced.

Back to the future for farmers

Local agribusiness lawyer, Tom Marland, is running the class action against the state government over the mismanagement of Paradise Dam.

Mr Marland said the AA from Sunwater feels like a scene from ‘Back to the Future’.

“Sadly, local farmers will be forced to irrigate like they did in 1999, when the AA in July was just 20pc,” Mr Marland said.

“Local records show that from 1995 to 2002 the AA in July were between 5 and 35pc, with the exception of 1996 when the AA in July was 50pc.

“Growers are going to experience major income losses on a 22pc AA and those are the kinds of losses we will be seeking to claim in the class action”.