Related: Wedderburn – A town running dry
FARMERS in the Loddon Shire have described a planned connection to the state’s water grid as a “game changer” for farmers battling drought.
Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement while visiting a water cartage property in Woosang, west of Wedderburn, on Thursday.
The state government will commit $40 million to the project, with $20 million from Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water and landholders. The federal government will be asked to commit a further $20 million.
The plan will link the West Waranga Channel with the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline within two years, including 1300 kilometres of pipelines.
President of the Victorian Farmers Federation Wedderburn branch Graham Nesbitt said the announcement was a welcome surprise for farmers in the region.
“It’s a lot more than we were expecting, it will be a game changer for our farmers,” he said.
“Some of us have experienced three seasons in a row of virtually no significant rain, so this will be a huge boost.”
Farming groups had been lobbying for the funding for two years.
Farmers in the Loddon region traditionally relied on run-off to top up water supplies, but with rainfall diminishing in the last 15 years, the pipeline had become an essential piece of infrastructure.
Grampian Wimmera Mallee Water's Mark Williams estimated it would cost farmers $12,500 to connect to the pipeline once it is complete.
Mr Nesbitt said he hoped there could be a way to support farmers to make the payment.
“Of course, it will be a lot cheaper than carting water in the long run,” he said.
The Premier arrived at the rural property just after lunch where he met with Loddon Shire staff, councillors and water authority officials.
Mr Andrews said phasing out water carting for farmers was a “fantastic vision” for the region.
“Water security is what modern farming is all about,” he said.
“The ultimate vision here is that, if we can deliver this 1300 kilometres of pipe for $80 million, it means no more water carting.”
Mr Andrews put pressure on federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce to pledge the remaining Commonwealth contribution, but promised the pipeline would be delivered with or without their help.
“We can deliver the trunk infrastructure, and we will start doing that – the main pipe, off which all of the feeders come,” he said.
“If the federal government don’t want to be a part of this, then we will deliver it in full.
“I would hope it doesn’t come to that. With the greatest of respect, I would say to the federal government: Don’t take as long to back this project in as you’ve taken on Murray-Basin freight rail.”
The section of Loddon Shire, which includes a large number of struggling farms, was the last remaining isolated part of the Victorian water grid.
Victorian water minister Lisa Neville said the pipeline would also create more options for other catchments areas.
“The connection into the West Waranga Channel actually ensures that you’ve got some real options, both locally and with how Wimmera-Mallee might utilise its water entitlements,” she said.
“(There are also) opportunities for the Coliban region, as they will be able to access other water treatment areas.
“Ultimately, it also provides broader choices across the grid, with the Goldfield super pipe system.”
During his visit to central Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews also announced $3.15 million to expand the drought employment program.
The program helps catchment management authorities to employ more staff.