At any given time, our customers have a high awareness of how much water is in our irrigation storages.
Nothing, however, focuses the mind quite so much on water availability as the latest seasonal determination – the objective assessment of how much water entitlement owners can access.
This was certainly the case for the opening determination announcement by the northern Victorian resource manager on July 1, which was low.
This of course places pressure on our customers, especially those who make their living from irrigated agriculture and those who may be reliant on the temporary water market.
We are acutely aware of these pressures. This is not only due to our status as custodians of northern Victoria’s stored water reserves and delivery systems, but also our heightened consultation with customers in the autumn, winter and spring of 2019.
This season coincides with our pricing submission, which determines our fees, charges and service standards over 2020-24.
I’ve written before on the critical importance of getting this work right for our sustainability, the benefit of our customers and development of the region.
In recent weeks, in workshops and drop-in sessions, phone calls and surveys, our staff have been in close consultation with customers.
For myself, as a managing director new to Goulburn-Murray Water (but not the water industry), it’s been very valuable in terms of defining our priorities and leadership going forward.
What we’re hearing so far is not surprising. Like any industry impacted by rising costs, our customers see lower prices as a priority.
Even more customers want price equity – fairness in what food and fibre producers pay and what those who trade in the water market pay.
Further they want assurance of equity with the environment, with our different customer types (irrigators, groundwater and diversion) and with different sizes (commercial farms and peri-urban properties).
Engaging with our customers means being open to discussion, even those that spark debate that can get thorny indeed – like should a value be placed on the end use of water (producing food and fibre versus lifestyle)?
And how do we, as a region of rural communities, determine what irrigation assets we really need to maintain and invest in to remain productive?
Our pricing engagement is also giving us strong feedback on issues like delivery share, water trade out of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and increased transparency in the water market.
While these may be policy issues outside of our remit as a rural water authority, I see G-MW as being well-placed to feed information to, and facilitate discussion with, government and other stakeholders.
We can all agree that the availability of water is becoming an increasing challenge and we can all see the value of water will rise.
These factors will shape what the GMID looks like in coming years.
I want G-MW to be more than an operational entity harvesting, storing and delivering water and associated services.
We are too important to the fabric of northern Victoria not to step-up and help lead respectful debate, entice new investment and join with key stakeholders and partners in delivering a productive future for our region.
In short, I intend for our heightened engagement with customers to become the norm.
Indeed, improving our communication has also been a constant theme of our consultation.