Total ban for the Mitchell

Total ban for the Mitchell

Would you prefer a long shower or lettuce in your Maccaʼs burger?

The way river restrictions are, you’ll be missing out on lettuce from Lindenow.
On Saturday, Mitchell River irrigation licences were placed on a total ban, significantly decreasing local vegetable and salad producers’ ability to supply contracts.

At Bulmer Farms, on the Lindenow Flats, a quarter of a million iceberg lettuce seedlings will not be planted. In fact they have been sent to Swan Hill where the Murray River offers more water security over winter.

The family company produces a fifth of McDonald’s restaurants’ national lettuce supply.

“We’ve taken measures to reduce plantings by about 20 per cent, which means about 15 tonnes less of spinach,” Bulmer Farms’ managing director, Andrew Bulmer, said.

“Things are pretty dire around here.

“We plant and harvest every week. It’ll be hard to catch up until spring.”

Mr Bulmer is calling on the State Government to offer dollar-for-dollar funding to assist farmers to create on-farm storage.

“Instead of spending $100 million for on-river storage we could spend $10 million, it’d be good for the local economy and a quick-fix that puts infrastructure on the ground straight away,” he said.

Last Sunday, the restrictions were back to Stage 10, which gives Bulmer Farms about 0.7 of a megalitre, something Mr Bulmer estimated would be used within half an hour.

The Advertiser first published the plight of the river on February 4, when Bulmer Farms’ Bill Bulmer said Stage 10 was “only a matter of time”.

Restrictions came into effect on January 12 and the Mitchell moved to Stage 9 on January 27, which means licence holders can only irrigate every third day at much-reduced volumes.

East Gippsland Water (EGW) is still entitled to pump from the river. It has farmers asking the question why there are no water restrictions in local towns.

“The disappointing thing is a lot of townsfolk are very sympathetic and would happily go on water restrictions if they knew what as going on, but they don’t,” Mr Bulmer said.

EGW managing director, Steve McKenzie, said the company was set to cease extracting water from the Mitchell River entirely in coming days.

“We haven’t reached a trigger point for implementing compulsory water restrictions this year,” Mr McKenzie said.

“EGW operates under strict licence conditions and has progressively reduced pumping to ensure environmental flows were maintained.”

Downriver, Malcolm Cox, of Mitchell Valley Growers, said irrigators weren’t happy.

“It’s going to hurt, it’ll bring things to a standstill here,” Mr Cox said.

“Winter production will be decreased big time.”

At Bonaccord, co-director, Ross Ingram, said the company stood to lose 200 acres of sweet corn and 60 acres of broccoli.

“We do have dams but we still stand to lose a lot of crop if it doesn’t rain in the next 10 days,” Mr Ingram said.

Bonaccord has approval to build another dam but ironically needs water for construction to compact the clay.

“I don’t think there’s any chance the river will come back on. We’ll lose about 20 per cent of corn production but some others could lose 100 per cent. There are people worse off than us.”

UNPREDICTABLE OUTLOOK

The amount of water flowing down the Mitchell has steadily fallen off during one of the region’s warmest and driest periods on record.

“EGW is now reaching the point where we will stop extracting altogether,” Mr McKenzie said.

“We rely on water from the Mitchell River to supply 22,000 residential customers, businesses and holidaymakers in communities from Lindenow in the west through to Nowa Nowa, including the larger townships of Bairnsdale, Paynesville and Lakes Entrance.

“Thanks to good planning we currently have about 120 days of water available to carry our customers through until the usual winter rains, and then we’ll begin rebuilding our water reserves for next summer.

“We learnt from experience some 12 years ago that you can’t rely on water flows or good water quality during extreme events like drought and bushfires. As a result, we built resilience into our water supply by implementing a multi-million-dollar investment program designed to go some way to ‘drought proofing’ our water supply systems. This included constructing a state-of-the-art water treatment plant at Woodglen (north west of Bairnsdale) and upgrading water storage facilities across East Gippsland.

“We focus on extracting most of our water from rivers during winter and spring, when river flows are greatest, and storing this in off-stream storages for use over summer.

“Over the last 10 years our customers have reduced their average water use by 20 per cent and we also recycle 100 per cent of the wastewater we collect and treat, mostly for agricultural use.

“Having said that, we’re constantly monitoring the water situation and it’s clear that we’re facing an increasingly unpredictable long-term climate and water outlook. It’s appropriate therefore that our customers look closely at their water needs in the home and garden to see how they can minimise consumption and conserve our region’s precious water resources as we focus on the future.

“Our water supply is a precious and limited resource and we need to continue our trend of using less water and maintain the habit of using water efficiently. This will become even more important as we experience additional challenges associated with climate change, extreme weather events and population growth.

“Customers are reminded that mandatory Permanent Water Saving Rules do apply. For example, this means not using a sprinkler system to the water garden, unless it’s between 6pm and 10am, and then please only if you need to.”


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