Water meeting targets future

By Country News

Industry leaders from across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District put their thinking caps on at a recent workshop aimed at securing the district’s viability as it faces a future with less water.

More than 50 influential industry and farmer figures were charged with reshaping the district’s destiny at the workshop in Moama earlier this month.

David McKenzie from the Goulburn Regional Partnerships said it was important industry leaders got on the front foot and set about shaping the region’s future around a common vision.

‘‘There’s a lot of opportunity in the region, both in dryland and irrigated agriculture. And the concern is that we might not be very well geared up to recognise those opportunities and take advantage of them,’’ Mr McKenzie said.

He said there was a need to change the current operating environment.

‘‘The thing about that operating environment is that it won’t stay still while we tinker with it. It’s changing quickly all around us at a local, regional, national and international level and that impacts on farmers on the ground,’’ he said.

The workshop heard from several irrigators who insisted the region’s problems began and ended with water security.

Cohuna irrigator Clark Fehring said viability was easily achieved if communities were confident about water availability into the future.

‘‘Security of water has enabled our regional cities like Shepparton, Echuca and Mildura to become the economic powerhouses that they are now. If you take that security away, those places will cease to exist,’’ Mr Fehring said.

‘‘It’s the flow-on effect of that one megalitre of water which has thousands of dollars of return and then gets spent in the local community. Without the water security, you’re going to have a lot of ghost towns and cities.’’

But Goulburn Broken CMA chief executive officer Chris Norman said while water was a key asset in the region, it wasn’t the only one.

‘‘Water is absolutely crucial, but the issues are broader than water. It’s about infrastructure, it’s about soils, it’s about access to markets,’’ Mr Norman said.

He said it was encouraging to see the region’s leaders from local government, farming, government agencies and water authorities commit to a debate about what a sustainable future looked like.

‘‘The region is under pressure, we know that, but other regions are moving forward, and we have to as well,’’ he said.

‘‘Let’s not get done over by folding under a whole lot of external pressures — let’s carve out a future for ourselves.”

Goulburn-Murray Water’s innovation and business development head Luke McNamara said he had attended many similar meetings but there was a sense of urgency about this forum which left him inspired.

‘‘There was a level of commitment in this group that shows this is not going to be just another committee. It’s going to be something that sticks and I think it’ll have some impact on policy as well,’’ he said.

The workshop agreed to commit to four actions: driving real change through influencing decision makers; clarity and stability around water reform and its impact on our industries and communities; understanding how to attract innovative industries; and marketing the region’s unique strengths.