By Jeremy Sollars
Supporters of the Emu Swamp Dam project for the Granite Belt are cheering after the Queensland Government announced it will contribute $13.6 million towards the proposed dam on the Severn River south-west of Stanthorpe.
In a statement released earlier today, Saturday 3 August, Queensland Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the State had been “listening to local farmers and irrigators on the Southern Downs while it carefully examined the project business case”.
The dam’s proponent, the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce – through its dam entity the Granite Belt Irrigation Project and commercial arm Granite Belt Water – has been lobbying hard for the State to come on board with Emu Swamp Dam, following a $47 million commitment from the Federal Government and $23.4 million pledged by local primary producers.
The announcement of the State funding comes just ahead of a national meeting of Murray-Darling Basin State Water Ministers in Canberra tomorrow – Sunday 4 August – to be chaired by Federal Maranoa MP and Minister for Water Resources and Drought David Littleproud, set to review the Basin Plan in light of the current drought.
In his statement today Dr Lynham said the State’s funding will be dependent on a number of conditions, including the Palaszczuk Government having “input into the choice of expert reviewers and the design and delivery process”.
“The drought has been long and hard on our food and fibre producers and their local communities,” Dr Lynham said today.
“My Department has been working closely with the proponent, Granite Belt Water, since the Emu Swamp Dam business case was completed several months ago.
“The State will now provide the $13.6 million conditional grant that Granite Belt Water has requested.
“Our concern has always been that local farmers and irrigators don’t end up facing considerably higher costs once there’s more work done on engineering, geological and environmental requirements.
“I am today calling on the Morrison Government, not local farmers, to pick up any cost over-runs on this project.
“Irrigators have committed to provide a contribution towards the construction of the dam as well as pay ongoing water charges that would cover operating and maintenance costs.
“Communities like Stanthorpe and Granite Belt growers don’t need to be saddled with the impact of dam cost over-runs or unexpected operating costs.
“My department’s water experts will also continue to provide technical advice and support to Granite Belt Water and local producers.”
The State Government’s funding conditions include –
• The proponent being able to secure access to sufficient water entitlements. This will involve discussions with local stakeholders and securing environmental approvals.
• Appropriately qualified and expert engineers reviewing and endorsing the design of the dam and distribution network
• The Queensland Government having input into the choice of expert reviewers and the design and delivery process
• The proposed owner, Granite Belt Water, providing information about the ongoing viability of the proposal and the business to allow State Government to undertake due diligence assessments
• That if construction contracts cannot be signed for $84 million, the viability of the project will be reconsidered.
Dr Lynham will write to Granite Belt Water this month offering the conditional grant.
“In the short term the Queensland Government is continuing to work closely with the Southern Downs Regional Council to support its ongoing efforts to ensure essential urban water supplies are maintained,” Dr Lynham said.
“The Queensland Government already has provided almost $950,000 to Southern Downs Regional Council to investigate and upgrade existing water infrastructure and to investigate and construct potential new and rejuvenated groundwater bores and access to recycled water for industrial use.”
The Southern Downs Regional Council has previously made it clear it would not commit ratepayer funds to Emu Swamp Dam.
Granite Belt Irrigation Project general manager Lloyd Taylor today said the Project “welcomes the commitment by the Palaszczuk Government and the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Dr Anthony Lynham to provide the remaining $13.6 million toward the building of the Granite Belt Irrigation Project”.
“The Board of Granite Belt Water acknowledges the $47 million funding contribution by the Australian Government and the ongoing commitment to the project by the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and the Minister for Water Resources and Member for Maranoa David Littleproud,” Mr Taylor said.
“Local Irrigators have pledged $23.4 million toward the project.
“The bi-partisan commitment to the project by both the Australian and Queensland Governments reinforces to the local community that both levels of government have heard and understood the need for water security to sustain local food production and economic prosperity for the region.”
Emu Swamp Dam – expected to be completed in 2022 – is projected by the Granite Belt Irrigation Project to increase water supply on the Granite Belt by 35%, create 273 hectares of “new irrigated high-value agriculture”, boost annual gross agricultural production in the area by $68 million and generate an extra $19.5 million in annual household income.
The dam is also projected to create 700 new jobs on the Granite Belt, plus 250 jobs during the construction phase.
The dam would also include a 450ML component of “emergency urban water for Stanthorpe at no cost to ratepayers”.
A further 550 hectares of land surrounding the new dam would be “dedicated to the environment and recreation with eco-tourism potential”.
Some 200 hectares will be inundated by the dam, affecting 18 properties.
Emu Swamp Dam will be the first Queensland dam built since Beaudesert’s 103,000ML Wyaralong Dam in 2011.
In the short-term…
The Southern Downs Regional Council forecasts that Stanthorpe could run out of urban water in the current drought by as early as the first two weeks in December without significant rainfall.
The council has so far been vague about emergency water plans for Stanthorpe in the event of ‘day zero’ but last week ruled out sourcing water from Coolmunda Dam at Inglewood, which is at 7% of capacity.
It has indicated water for Stanthorpe could be sourced from Leslie and Connolly Dams in Warwick, both of which are at critically low levels.
Mayor Tracy Dobie has previously told the media the provision of emergency urban water across the council region could cost up to $1.5 million a month but has said she is confident such a cost would be met by the State and Federal Governments.