Help forest or farmers?

By Country News

The Nationals have accused the Victorian Premier of refusing to help secure more water for drought-stricken dairy farms in northern Victoria.

The party says up to 82Gl of water will flood into Gunbower Forest, near Cohuna, by November — while dairy farmers in the region are struggling to maintain their herds through this developing drought.

‘‘The Gunbower Forest water is enough to keep more than 80 family dairy farms operating and producing more than 200million litres of milk over summer,’’ Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said.

He said some dairy farmers had already made the heartbreaking decision to sell off entire herds due to the drought.

‘‘All we got today from the Premier for Melbourne was confirmation he doesn’t have even a basic understanding of how water is allocated in northern Victoria, and he still doesn’t seem to care about the dire predicament some of our farmers are in,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘In these dry conditions, water flowing into Gunbower Forest does not mimic natural conditions at all — it’s doing the exact opposite while the hard-working people who put food on our tables are losing their livelihoods.’’

Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan said water resources must be used efficiently, especially in a prolonged dry spell.

‘‘Farmers are right to question whether the Gunbower watering is the best use of a precious resource right now when temporary water is trading around $330/Ml and dairy farmers need every drop they can to sustain their herds and grow fodder,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘At a time when farmers are desperate for water, Daniel Andrews and Lisa Neville should be looking at every option to help them — not ignoring legitimate questions and predictably trying to shift blame to the Commonwealth.

‘‘We should be using every drop of water we can to support our farmers to save their farms and their livelihoods.’’

North Central Catchment Management Authority project delivery executive manager Tim Shanahan said Gunbower Forest needed a drink.

‘‘The current watering program is part of a long-term strategy to restore the health of the forest, within the restrictions of allocations and current infrastructure and capacity, and help build resilience for future dry years while water is still available.’’

Mr Shanahan said regulation had altered the frequency of water going into the forest, particularly during dry years.

‘‘Interestingly, if all the regulating structures were removed, Gunbower Forest would have received water in seven of the 10 years of the recent millennium drought, despite the dry,’’ he said.

‘‘Instead, with river regulation, only a small amount of water entered the forest in three of those 10 years, reaching only some of the wetlands and none of the broader floodplain.’’