A state government commissioned socio-economic study found the “spatially random nature of Commonwealth water purchases has contributed to the difficulty of rationalising infrastructure."
The report’s authors also warned water tariffs would surge, as fewer farmers were left to fund a network that had not undergone the rationalisation, which was forecast when the Connections project began.
But GMW managing director Pat Lennon said while water purchases across its coverage areas had been random, it didn’t meant rationalisation could not continue.
“The Connections project is continuing to roll out, under the reset, on an optimal basis.
“The water savings are on track, as is the budget,” Mr Lennon said.
“It probably does make it make a little harder to get to the end point that was originally envisaged, but it doesn’t mean to say there is not further opportunity for savings.”
He said GMW would again provide an update on how the Connections project was going, this September.
Mr Lennon also ruled out any large tariff increases.
“Our revenues are largely fixed in nature; we are under water plan four, and under the Essential Services Commission (ESC) terms, there is no change in those tariffs, through to the end of water plan four.
“We are one year into year four – we are also running programs here, where there is a constant drive to reduce our operational expenses.
“A recurring $20 million in savings is being targeted and we are on track to that.”
He said innovation was also driving capital efficiencies, through GMW.
“I don’t see there is an eminent surge in tariffs - that is not going to happen.”
“Beyond water plan four, we will have landed significant, recurring operational expenditure savings, and we will have worked into the business many innovations, which will improve the efficiency of our capital spend.
“There is lots of room to push programs around, to manage the revenue base you have got.
“We are no different than what you see in other, large ‘asset distributed’ businesses and we will move the program around to manage the revenues we have got.”
Connections project director Frank Fisseler said 4000 landholders had already benefited from modernisation, with another 1400 yet to be completed, by October 2020.
“The words ‘Connections project’ might be a little bit misleading, because they are already all connected, they already all have access to water,” Mr Fisseler said.
He said there had been a steady reduction in the number of complaints about “legacy” issues, where irrigators had been waiting years for their systems to be upgraded.
“These people are saying they haven’t been contacted, but I know, for sure, they have been contacted,” Mr Fisseler said.
He cited an instance where one irrigator had been contacted more than 10 times, by GMW.
“It’s not that people haven’t been contacted, people are sometimes are not getting told what they want to hear,” Mr Fisseler said.
“We are talking thousands of people - every case is different and all relate to relatively complex, on-farm design.
“Then you have to construct something on the block of land, and you have to go through the engagement process.
“It’s not something you can just resolve within a week, as much as I wish I could do it within a very short time frame.”
He said a new process had been put in place to help roll out the rest of the Connections project.
“One landowner is in disagreement, and he stops everything – we have six or seven people on a channel, everybody is happy, one isn’t and it stops the project. We came and said ‘this can’t continue’.”
Mr Fisseler said the project would not have been rolled out the way it was, if had been in charge.
“I understand every frustration, because I would be equally frustrated – we have done our utmost to come up with a reset plan, which is the best possible plan to fix the project, and we are now rolling it out.”
He said no irrigator would be “left behind”.