PRIMARY Industries Minister Guy Barnett has been urged to “put his big boy pants on” and help resolve the bitter dispute between Derwent Valley producers and Hydro Tasmania over the lowering of Lake Meadowbank.
Hydro plans to lower the level of Lake Meadowbank by two metres over a 10-week period in February 2022 while maintenance work on the dam crest gates is undertaken, followed by a two-week period where the dam is dropped a further four meters to test the gates.
This process will be repeated in early 2023 on a second gate.
Hydro has confirmed it will meet the cost of modifying infrastructure that supplies water to stock and domestic users, a legislated requirement of $300,000, yet the drop in the water levels will result in the region being unable to properly access the water through their current means.
Hydro has offered $10,000 to compensate each irrigator for the expenses of modifying irrigation systems.
However, it is expected that amount will only be sufficient for a third of affected irrigators, with the remainder expected to be hit with costs upwards of $40,000.
In a meeting between farmers and Hydro in Hamilton last week, both parties put their cases forward, with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment mediating.
Irrigators tabled an offer to Hydro where they will pay 25 per cent of the costs of the new infrastructure, estimated to total around $300,000, with Hydro paying the remaining $900,000.
At the time of publication, Hydro Tasmania’s offer is to compensate either $10,000, or contribute 20 per cent of the total expense to the irrigator’s modifications, whichever is more viable to the irrigator.
TFGA CEO John McKew said the negotiations need to move forward quickly to meet their deadlines.
“For the impact this has on this community and the communities around here, this issue is fundamentally important. There is a moral and ethical obligation on Hydro to find a solution to this issue and get on with it,” Mr McKew said.
“The 20 per cent from the Hydro today just is not good enough, it was no where near the mark, the irrigators offered to cover 25 per cent cost and the Hydro haven’t even matched that.”
Hamilton dairy farmer Dave Jones said Hydro needed to find another 55 per cent. “Whether that’s from the Government, from Hydro, it’s got to come from somewhere,” he said.
“They’re delusional to think this work can be done by February. If they hadn’t mucked around for eight months, we might have had a chance, but now, we’ve got zero.”
Andrew Hickman, head of Civil Assets and representative of Hydro at the Hamilton meeting, said: “Discussions with the community are not yet complete.
“This maintenance must be completed during the drier and warmer months to ensure the safety of the communities downstream. “We recognise this will have an impact on the community and we always take steps to minimise these impacts.
“We intend to continue to work constructively with stakeholders and find a way forward that delivers certainty for all parties.”
As Minister for Primary Industries and Water and Minister for Energy and Emission Reduction, Mr Barnett was called on by irrigators to intervene in an issue that fell squarely into his departments.
He told the Estimates Committee the issue was “an operational matter for Hydro”.
“They can find a million so people can watch footy yet here they claim that they can’t find the money and just expect farmers to stump up and go away,” Mr Jones said.
Mr Barnett’s office was contacted for a response.