Mr Neville identified fixing the problem with the Total Channel Control (TCC) system in the Loddon Valley as a priority. “Everybody seems to be in agreement it is a software issue,” Ms Neville said. “They said ‘when it works, it’s fantastic’, when it doesn’t, it’s terrible, so the number one priority is getting that TCC system fixed, so it’s reliable and delivering as people were promised.”
But a long-running issue, centring on leaking pipes in the Cohuna and Boort districts, seemed as far away from resolution as ever before. Cohuna dairy farmer’s Jodie and Colin Hay were among those plagued by splits in irrigation pipelines, installed four to five years ago. Jodie Hay put the problem down to a failure to design the on-farm irrigation systems properly and poor quality piping. “Had it been planned properly, it would have been fantastic – but what happened is they rushed it, they were given the tiniest of time frames to do a complex job,” she said.
In response, a GMW spokeswoman said the private pipe and riser systems were installed as a result of direct funding from the Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP) and in some cases as part of the On-farm Efficiency Program. “The detailed design, management and procurement of these systems was left to the discretion of each landowner.” The spokeswoman said a failure in the installation of private systems is a matter more appropriately addressed between each landowner and their individual contractors or suppliers.”
Irrigators in the Koyuga area also raised concerns about lack of channel maintenance, with areas where mud was up to two metres deep. Koyuga crop and livestock producer Steve Snelson said putting new fittings on choked channels didn’t work, resulting in water loss. “Connections are doing a very good job, on the work they actually do, but the channels are not complimentary with the fittings,” Mr Snelson said. “It’s like having a bucket with a new handle that’s full of holes.”
This year’s Connections Winter Works program saw another $100million in critical Winter Works completed across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID). The program continued into spring and summer, with another 19km of pipelines to be installed across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID) in the coming months
During this year’s Winter Works program, more than 33kms of irrigation channel were upgraded, to fix leaks, seepage and generate water savings, while another 35kms of pipeline were installed. Work was carried out on more than 500 outlets, across the irrigation district. More than 250 channel automation sites were installed.
Into the future
Ms Neville said she was looking at the big picture. “What’s the future of this region? All this money is going in, what’s going to be the cost of the infrastructure, the running of it, the cost of water in the future ? How do we ‘sell’ the region, how do we position this region for future investment?,” Ms Neville said.
“I want to make this an affordable system that people want to invest in. If we get this right, modernisation can mean you’ve got water security and people can, and do, want to invest.”
She was asked how the government balanced different priorities, particularly between horticulturalists in the north-west and dairy farmers in the Goulburn Valley. “Governments should never pick winners and losers; it’s not saying we think the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID) is a winner, Mildura is a loser,” Ms Neville said. “In terms of the Plan, there are a few voices in Mildura who very strongly support it, but there are also a lot who don’t. If you end up with dairy out of the system, because water prices are so high, it is going to affect horticulture as well.”
And with a State election due by the end of next year, Victoria got a new opposition water spokeswoman, in Euroa Nationals MP, Steph Ryan, who took over from Peter Walsh. The first new Victorian coalition Water spokesperson - in government or opposition – Ms Ryan said she grew up on an irrigated dairy farm, so understood the importance of water management.