Valley irrigators drowning in costs

IT’S a tale of two irrigators – and Tom Woolaston is on the wrong side of the river.

The fifth-generation farmer, whose Somerton property sits near the boundary of the Namoi and Peel valleys, is being slugged twice the price for irrigation water delivery as his neighbour up the road.

In a damning indictment on State Water’s pricing system, Mr Woolaston is being punished simply for pumping water from the Peel River.

The pain could be about to get worse for irrigators and residents in the Peel – already among the hardest hit for water in the state – with a much-publicised proposal to jack up prices even further.

Mr Woolaston said the new proposal, based on a full-cost recovery model, would have a devastating impact.

“In 1991, I paid $2000 for water delivery and last year I paid $31,000,” he said.

“It’s getting to be a huge expense and it’s increasing exponentially.”

Mr Woolaston is currently paying about $70 a megalitre for water delivery, while irrigators in the Namoi are paying $35 and irrigators in the Murrumbidgee as little as $6.

Under the new proposal, Tamworth Regional Council’s bulk water costs would double to more than $1.2 million by 2016/17 and irrigators would also face a significant price spike.

The proposed State Water increases are being examined by the ACCC.

Tamworth councillor James Treloar said the proposed changes failed to take into account a range of factors.

“State Water’s own figures state that 95 per cent of the water that flows down the Peel goes straight through to the environment,” Cr Treloar said.

“We only get 5 per cent yet we get no credit or recognition for that. State Water’s own lack of efficiency needs to be looked at, too.

“It costs me more than $200 to get a simple meter read and it could be done enormously cheaper.”

A State Water spokesman denied the organisation was shifting the cost of inefficiency onto users.

“As a business seeking to minimise operating expenses, State Water has in recent years introduced technology to reduce cost factors ranging from service provision to travel.

Further technology currently being implemented will further reduce costs associated with monitoring dams and delivering water, while stricter management of work vehicles, consolidation of office space and an award-winning safety regime are other examples of recent initiatives driving operating costs down.”

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