Water access cut off at Katunga

By Alana Christensen

Owners of a Katunga organic dairy farm say an ongoing dispute over groundwater access has cost them more than $250000 in lost pasture production.

Dairy farmers Heather and Colin Stone say a dispute with international construction giant Boral about the company’s Katunga quarry has left them unable to access their 690Gl groundwater entitlement.

The Stones have a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal agreement dating back to 2000, which states that Boral must supply the farm with water as a result of the effect the sand quarry expansion has had on the watertable.

The original VCAT agreement was put in place as a result of hydrology research that indicated that the quarry would ultimately drain the groundwater below Mr and Mrs Stone’s farm, which is adjacent to the quarry.

Mr Stone said there had not been a problem receiving the water from the Boral quarry — until two years ago.

‘‘It started to get harder and harder to get water off (Boral),’’ he said.

‘‘We switched to only watering in the autumn and spring — we could survive with that. But last summer there was no rain from October, we had converted to an organic farm and had to try and provide organic feed.’’

The Stones had not seen a drop of water out of the company since March and by June they were desperate for water with their property a ‘‘desert’’, Mr Stone said.

With the drought affecting feed supply across the region, he said their options were running out.

‘‘This basically pushes us to breaking point. Cow feed is very scarce and all the organic crops have basically failed,’’ Mr Stone said.

‘‘We’ve had to start destocking and we’ve cut down from 250 to 190 ... Feed is costing us more each day than we can make in milk, it just puts a huge strain on you and the family unit.’’

Mr Stone said the couple now only had three weeks to get a ‘‘full-on guarantee’’ that they would get the water.

He is hoping to sow sorghum for the upcoming summer season to produce feed for their herd.

‘‘Boral takes its legal obligations, and the impacts of its operations on the wider community, extremely seriously,’’ a Boral spokesperson said.

‘‘Boral has had ongoing discussions with Colin and Heather Stone in relation to the water-sharing issue at Katunga, and is working with the Stones to find a mutually acceptable resolution.’’

But even if a resolution can be reached, Mr Stone said the effects would be long-lasting.

‘‘We’ll be sitting here with a property that’s halved in value because we can’t access water. Any confidence has been burnt,’’ he said.

Australian Consolidated Milk, which processes the Stones’ milk, threw its support behind the couple.

In a statement, general manager Peter Jones accused Boral of ‘‘throwing its weight around’’.

‘‘Boral was not only turning its back on a long-standing legally binding agreement, but it has cut off a farm’s access to water during a drought ... this sort of behaviour is unthinkable,’’ Mr Jones said.