Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An open letter from MVGWTA Chairman Dudley Brown.

Members,

On Monday of this week, I attended a meeting with Minister for Water Security Maywald’s assistant Helen Rodwell and Chris Marles from SA Water as well as with representatives of MVGWTA and the Willunga Basin Water Company to discuss reclaimed water storage and mains water substitution. At a meeting with Ministers Maywald and McEwen twelve months ago, we (me, Jock Harvey, Derek Cameron, Leon Bignell) were assured that a new 700ML dam for reclaimed water at Aldinga would be operational prior to the irrigation season beginning in November 2009. At present, SA Water has collected tenders that are presently being evaluated that call for the 700ML dam to be built on a 40 week schedule with completion by January 2010. As the dam will not be able to be filled with reclaimed water prior to winter of 2010, no significant expansion of the reclaimed irrigation network will be possible until that time. While a tender has yet to be awarded, the “guesstimate” is for the dam to cost between four and six million dollars.

The financial cost of the heat wave earlier this year is conservatively held at $30 million dollars in lost fruit in the McLaren Vale wine region. Assuming a flow on effect of 4x to wineries, a further $120 million dollars of lost wine sales will result from this. As Willunga Basin Water Company irrigates approximately 40% of the district, it is reasonable to assume that about $12 million dollars of fruit losses came from existing WBWC customers that were not able to keep up with irrigation demands as a result of insufficient storage of reclaimed water. How many other applicants for WBWC connections were affected by their inability to connect to the network because of a lack of storage for reclaimed water is not known. However, it is probably another 10-15% of the vineyards in McLaren Vale. In any case, the price of the dam is significantly less than the damage already caused by the dam not being built. Interestingly, the CSIRO is just released research showing that where growers were able to sufficiently irrigate prior to the heat event, losses were greatly reduced. An article about this can be viewed at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/03/23/2523125.htm.

A few key points came out of yesterday’s meeting:

1) SA Water claims that Minister Maywald did not instruct them to have the dam operational prior to the coming irrigation season.

2) The state government claims that they have moved as fast as they could and that there is only one appropriate process to follow in putting infrastructure contracts out to tender.

3) SA Water claims to have initiated a parallel bid process to build the dam much faster than forty weeks to discover whether having a dam built on an accelerated schedule is possible.

The obvious question is “why would SA Water already be exploring an entirely different tender process if what they were already doing was the “only way” or “the right way”?” Further, when MP Leon Bignell requested a copy of this alternate tender on Tuesday, he was told he could not have one. As this would be a public document (assuming it exists), our concerns were only magnified. The obvious conclusion from the meeting was that either or both the government and / or SA Water are aware that they have dropped the ball on water storage in our region. Further, it was clear that the government feels politically vulnerable on this serious matter in the lead up to an election. The point we made to the government was that MVGWTA had remained silent or supportive when asked by the media about storage for the past twelve months on the understanding that the government would deliver on their promise to prioritize storage and deliver prior to the coming irrigation season. Given the lack of certainty provided, we indicated to Ms. Rodwell that this issue is so important to us that we could no longer remain silent and hope things suddenly improve.

Our responsibility to our members is not to discover who is not telling the whole truth here or why but to inform you of the situation as soon as we knew of it and to encourage you to make your feelings known on this matter. Directly or indirectly, this issue affects most of our members and levy payer’s businesses. We have had reports from all sectors that the light vintage has already badly affected tourism, businesses on Main Street and those of our other members.

The proposed dam is being paid for from various government agencies but the largest portion is from Waterproofing the South and funded by the federal government. Given the many problems that can not be solved in a drought, the 700ML reclaimed water storage project at Aldinga is one that protects crops, reduces polluted outfalls to the ocean, protects farm and winery incomes and, perhaps most importantly, increases drinking water to the SA Water network immediately. Compounding this situation is that the state government has still not completed its commitment to fund the McLaren Vale Water Plan for subsidizing mains water substitution for small and medium sized irrigators. Only because the Federal Government has met its commitments on this front is the plan operational. But, with no additional storage, the MVWP is unable to actually accomplish much. We are not concerned as to why the state government and SA Water have not treated this as a priority in the past, but rather to know why our water security solution is not a top priority for a government trying to manage a severe drought.

The Member for Mawson, Leon Bignell has been a constant advocate for reclaimed storage to be built over the past twelve months. For example, he wrote to Minister Maywald in October of 2008 regarding the slow progress on the storage dam and did not receive a response. He subsequently wrote to the Premier in the past month to express his frustration with the lack of response. Immediately following this, the Minister invited Leon to a “briefing” on water storage. He instead requested a full meeting with stakeholders from MVGWTA, WBWC and SA Water. This was the meeting held yesterday.

If you agree that this situation presents a risk to McLaren Vale, we encourage each of you who votes email - Premier Mike Rann - premier@dpc.sa.gov.au
Minister for the Southern Suburbs Hill - minister.health@health.sa.gov.au
Minister for Water Security Maywald - minister.maywald@saugov.sa.gov.au
MP Leon Bignell – mawson@parliament.sa.gov.au

We are quickly running out of time to get a result that will matter to the region before the next irrigation season. Your direct and immediate action on this matter will make it clear to the government that their delays are a serious risk to our livelihoods, our industry and our region.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and assistance in this matter.

Regards,

Dudley Brown
Chairman
McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association

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