The Nationals MID Water Drought Irrigation Danny O'Brien macalister irrigation district blue rock dam

Irrigation development can boost jobs in Gippsland

Macalister Irrigation District production could be doubled and irrigation along the Latrobe River increased to help the local economy transition and create jobs.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien said Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley should aim to become a powerhouse for irrigated agriculture, capitalising on reliable water availability and new opportunities to develop existing resources.

Mr O’Brien is launching a campaign for state government support to help grow jobs in new industries in the Central Gippsland region.

“There is a significant amount of water in Blue Rock Dam on the Latrobe system that is currently allocated but unused.  This includes 25,000 ML for a Loy Yang power station that was never built, 14,000 ML previously allocated to Hazelwood and around 40,000 ML kept in reserve.

“That’s around 80,000 ML which is about half the current high-reliability allocation in the MID.  Even putting some of that water to productive use would help create jobs and economic activity in our region.”

Mr O’Brien said this water was currently stored in Blue Rock Lake, so its use would have no impact on environmental flows or the Gippsland Lakes.

“This water could be made available for irrigation developments along the Latrobe River, or potentially even connected into the Thomson-Macalister system to expand the MID or improve the reliability of entitlements.

“Additional irrigation could be achieved through better water-use efficiency and the encouragement of low water use but high value-added production such as greenhouses and other horticultural industries. The Andrews Labor Government should be investigating these options as part of its current review of water resources in southern Victoria.”

Mr O’Brien and Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said to start with the Andrews Labor Government must commit its share of the final phase of the MID modernisation.

“The Nationals committed to this project at the election last year and we’ve had $32 million on the table from the Commonwealth since February and not a peep out of Labor on when they will fund their share,” Mr Bull said.

“This project alone will deliver 10,000 ML of water efficiency savings that can be put to good use in creating jobs in our region.”

Mr O’Brien said there was good land either side of the MID and around the Latrobe that could be developed for irrigation and Southern Rural Water had already undertaken preliminary plans for expansion.

“We need the Labor Government to further develop these plans because we need more jobs and alternative industries in the region now and into the future. It is a fact that irrigation delivers much greater economic return, including in jobs, per hectare of development than dryland agriculture.

“With a transition occurring in our traditional industries, now is the time to seize the opportunities to expand irrigation and create jobs.  With the right policy settings, we can also develop new value-adding in processing that will create more local jobs.”

Mr O’Brien said a key risk however was the current plans to fill closed open cut coal mines, such as the Morwell mine at Hazelwood, with water.

“I appreciate the technical constraints that suggest a pit lake is the only viable option to maintain the integrity of the mine.  However the government estimates it will take 750,000 to 1 million ML to fill the mine – where will that water come from and at what opportunity cost for our communities?

“Can the water from a pit lake be used for other purposes and how?  What will the water quality be like?  These and many other questions are yet to be answered and yet a pit lake is the only option currently being considered at Hazelwood.”

Mr O’Brien said the government needs to be transparent about the costs and opportunities.

“In Gippsland we could become an even greater foodbowl than we already are, but we need to seize opportunities like those available to us in the Latrobe right now.”

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, at Kilmany with Latrobe River irrigators Josie Zilm, Frankie Mills and Richard Crooke.

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