Call for food producers to be exempt from water cuts

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The City of Wanneroo says it will continue to advocate for local growers so they can remain viable and can continue to provide a local supply of fresh produce. File picture

THE City of Wanneroo is calling for industry exemptions outlined in the McGowan Government’s plan to rebalance Perth’s northern groundwater resources to be extended to include the food production industry.

On June 3 Water Minister Dave Kelly released the Gnangara groundwater allocation plan, which confirmed reductions for the agriculture and horticulture sectors would be 10 per cent but also that commercial nurseries and tree farms would be exempt.

Deputy mayor Brett Treby said the city supported the overall need to reduce groundwater abstraction, but the reductions outlined in the Gnangara groundwater allocation plan would have an unacceptable impact on the agribusiness sector within the City of Wanneroo.

“We would like to see industry exemptions that have now been granted to commercial nurseries and tree farms expanded to include the food production industry and will continue to advocate for local growers to ensure these businesses remain viable and can continue to provide a local supply of fresh produce,’’ he said.

In a statement the government said commercial nurseries and tree farms would be exempt as they were comparatively small water users and provided the plants and trees which helped reduce the urban heat effect in suburbs caused by climate change.

“The state government will work closely with the nursery and tree farm sector to develop new waterwise standards,’’ the statement said.

Agriculture and horticulture won’t be the only sectors affected by the Gnangara groundwater allocation plan as all big, licensed water users north of the Swan River, including the Water Corporation, industry, irrigators and local governments, will all be required to reduce their groundwater abstraction from July 2028.

To save more groundwater the plan also includes alignment of garden bore sprinkler rosters with the scheme sprinkler roster.

Horticultural producers, poultry farmers and turf growers in North Wanneroo (Carabooda, Nowergup and Neerabup) are important for local food production and agricultural enterprise.

North Wanneroo licensees, according to the Gnangara groundwater allocation plan, abstract up to 12.7 GL a year of groundwater across 188 licences.

The City of Wanneroo website includes ABS data showing that in 2015-16 the total value of agricultural output in the local government area was $86 million with vegetables accounting for just more than 50 per cent of the city’s total agricultural output in value terms.

In 2015-16 the total value of agricultural output, including vegetables, in the City of Wanneroo was $86 million. File picture

Previously when rejecting cuts for growers as a solution the City of Wanneroo has said a 10 per cent water reduction for the agriculture and horticulture sectors meant those sectors would be required to reduce their usage to 56.5GL per annum.

This meant North Wanneroo growers would need to reduce on average 6.9 million litres per annum for each licence and Gingin agriculture users would lose access to 14.6m litres of water per annum per licence while Swan Valley users would need to reduce by 1.4m litres per annum per licence.

Several agricultural sector respondents from the North Wanneroo area, according to the Gnangara groundwater allocation plan statement of response, submitted that the proposed reduction in abstraction in Carabooda was not supported by the modelling presented in the draft plan which showed stable to slightly rising levels predicted in the superficial aquifer for the Carabooda sub-area under the ‘No intervention’ scenario, due to land use changes.

But the response statement said the 10 per cent reduction to abstraction in North Wanneroo was needed to contribute to meeting objectives to improve levels at nearby wetlands, including Lake Yonderup, Lake Wilgarup, Pipidinny Swamp and Lake Nowergup.

“These wetlands have been impacted by local abstraction from the superficial aquifer, which has contributed to levels being non-compliant with water level criteria set by the Environment Minister,’’ the response statement said.

Mr Treby said the city was pleased to see the final plan included a commitment to deliver an operational desalination plant by 2028.

“We believe Alkimos is the ideal location for this new plant, with potential for co-location with the Alkimos wastewater treatment plant, existing water infrastructure and in close proximity to the rapidly growing northern corridor,’’ he said.

“The city would like to ensure that the net water benefit from the new desalination plant is shared with agricultural licence holders and welcomes the opportunity to work with state government and the Water Corporation to achieve this outcome.’’

The McGowan Government said it has already committed $600,000 to support the North Wanneroo irrigated agriculture sector with transitioning to reduced groundwater availability through water efficiency programs.