Moving to allay fears

MURRUMBIDGEE Irrigation is moving to allay fears of growers ahead of cutting the main canal supply next month.

From May 26 to early August there will be no access to irrigation water from the main canal and the supply systems branching from it as an 11-week upgrade of the infrastructure is carried out.

The $15 million refurbishment of the canal is funded by the federal government. Citrus growers are believed to be among those affected, but MI’s general manager of operations Alan Shea said it was working to alleviate any issues that may arise. 

“The extended outage is of particular concern to our citrus growers who are seeking a scheduled winter watering period to manage frost risk,” he said. “At this stage we can’t schedule a winter watering period. 

However, we are working through a range of options to minimise the overall outage times. We are also reordering some of the planned works so that we can hold up as much water as possible in different parts of the network. By working together with our customers we expect to be able to provide some access to water at various periods throughout the works program for critical crop needs.” Securing town water supplies is also a priority for the period, but it is not expected councils in Leeton and Griffith will need to impose any water restrictions.

“We will be monitoring water use very closely during the shutdown to make sure we have enough water reserved for the entire shut down period,” Mr Shea said. “At this stage there are no planned water restrictions, but we encourage all residents to help our farmers by being careful with their water use. Any water not needed to support town supply can then be redirected to critical crop needs in the event of a dry winter.”

NSW Farmers' water spokesman Helen Dalton was concerned. "There probably should have been better planning and contingencies in place to allow for irrigators to have access to supplementary water,” she said.

As Water NSW is undertaking works at Beremebed Weir at the same time, which is MI’s river access point for the main canal, there will be no access to supplementary water for the duration of the works.

Mrs Dalton did say the upgrade is necessary and would benefit all the community in the long run. 

“It’s common practice to drop the canal at some point, but not for this long,” she said. 

"I think MI need to be looking further afield ... what we need is a surge dam to allow for this supplementary water to be stored and used Lake Coolah and Lake Mejum, (near Narrandera), could be used for this exact purpose."

According to MI the work will vastly improve the system, with Mr Shea labeling it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. 

“(This will) modernise our main canal, which will increase flow rates for customers and reduce costs in the longer-term,” he said.

“Because we are automating the main canal, all of the regulating structures need to be either replaced or upgraded. 

“It is not possible to do this scale of capital works inside the irrigation season. 

“We have co-ordinated our program with works being conducted by Water NSW so that we only have one extended shut down period to minimise impacts to the community.”

During the period the Sturt canal will operate as normal. 

It will not be completely drained, but will have sections closed at certain periods of the winter shutdown to allow for annual maintenance works.

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