A GROUP of West Manjimup farmers in Western Australia's South West are calling for a stop to the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme (SFIS), fearing it will cause raised salinity levels in the Donnelly River and a trading scheme where water will be sold to the highest bidder.
There are additional concerns abouthectares of forest that will have to be destroyed to make the project possible and losing water forever, via the scheme, from the Donnelly River catchment.
Under the SFIS, a 15-gigalitre dam and 250km pipeline will supply about nine gigalitres of water annually to irrigate 1700ha of land – but only farmers making a financial contribution will benefit, despite government funding making up more than 85 per cent of the cost.
The Federal Government committed $39 million to the scheme just days before it went into caretaker mode for the election with the State Government providing $18 million and a private cooperative of 68 farmers also adding $10 million.
Calls for proponents of the scheme to hold a public meeting have been repeatedly ignored – and farmers with protest signs on their properties have received letters from the council threatening fines if they do not remove them.
Out of 458 farmers in the district, only have 68 have signed up to the scheme.
Local farmer and Don’t Dam the Donnelly member John Kilrain described the project as ill-founded and unfair.
“As things stand, the Warren and Blackwood rivers have salinity problems but the Donnelly River doesn’t,” he said.
“When you start taking water out of a catchment area, especially in the manner proposed, salt levels
The SFIS business case, which includes a cost-benefit analysis, has yet to be released to the public by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan.
The farmer’s cooperative has only provided two per cent of its promised $10 million and will only deliver another eight per cent before the scheme’s infrastructure.
“That means there’s a potential $9 million black hole because any one of those 68 farmers could pull out at any
the SFIS want to push the price of water as high as possible.
“Our government should be looking to assist famers and orchardists to create produce at the lowest price possible so we can be competitive in export markets,” he said.
“I’ve yet to see one example of water trading being a success in this country.
“Water should be as cheap as possible to allow farms to flourish, which has a flow-on effect by creating greater employment.”
Mr Kilrain also highlighted the increased carbon footprint that would be created by the project, via the initial building of the infrastructure and continued pumping of water.
“The last thing anyone wants is for this to turn into another Murray-Darling Basin fiasco,” he said.
Greens South West Region MCL Diane Evers tabled a petition against the scheme to WA Parliament in June and an online petition currently has more than 4300 signatures.
West Manjimup farmer John Kilrain pictured next to the Donnelly River – he’s one of many farmers in the area that believes the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme will have a devastating effect on the waterway.
John KilrainP: 0417 909 341