Call for politicians to view water crisis first hand

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Lake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow.
Camera IconLake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow. Credit: Cally Dupe

Lake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow is drumming up support for a bipartisan water crisis meeting in the Great Southern, and he has his eyes on long-term solutions.

Mr Bairstow has reached out to WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan and WA Water Minister Dave Kelly to invite them to his and neighbouring farms.

Mr Bairstow said he had also invited Roe MP Peter Rundle and O’Connor MP Rick Wilson to the meeting, which he hopes will include a farm tour and meeting at the town hall.

Mr Bairstow said he wanted to show politicians what he called a “mega dam” or “smart dam”, a 25,000 cubic metre dam that is still a quarter full.

He first built it 15 years ago and it is the only dam that is not dry on his property after three years of “horrendously dry conditions”.

“We need to ask both governments lead the way, to put up 25 per cent,” Mr Bairstow said.

“The Federal Government and the State Government have been playing a bit of political football with this.

“It should be right off the political agenda, it is affecting people’s lives. It is getting dire out here.

“Even if we get rain, and get our dams full, we still have to start building infrastructure for the future, to cope with the drying climate.

“We haven’t got enough of these smart dams, or desalination schemes, we need 20,000 cubic metre dams, the catchments to go with them.”

Mr Bairstow said he wanted to talk to the State Government about reinstating the Farm Water Rebate Scheme, which was abolished in 2018.

He believes the scheme should be reinstated and include 50 per cent rebates for smart dams, building catchments, desalination, dam covers, solar pumps, and large tanks.

“I want to talk to these politicians about long-term solutions to this water crisis ... we are so appreciative for the water, but these have been band-aid solutions,” he said.

Mr Bairstow said farmers were staring down the barrel of having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to have continuous access to water.

He calculates farmers should have a “mega dam” per 2000ha in a bid to drought-proof their farms.

“We need desalination units, we need large capacity water tanks to give us large storage, solar pumps, and access to underground water,” Mr Bairstow said.

A total 12 areas in WA have been declared water deficient since May last year, several of which are in the Great Southern. The list includes Mt Short, Mallee Hill, Hollands Rock, Ardler Road, Jerramungup North, Kukerin, Hamilton, Salmon Gums, Gairdner, and Cascade.

Mr Bairstow said he was grateful to the State Government and Mr Kelly for providing stock water, which has cost the State $8.5 million since last May.

“There has been a lot of stock leave Lake Grace, but if we had not had access to water there would be no stock left here,” he said.

“It has helped to hold our stock ... with the water being carted and that giant dam, we have been able to hold our breeding stock.

“But now we need a strategic plan going forward, to try and make sure we can go through three to four years of this and still hold water on farm.”

Mr Rundle said he had approached Ms MacTiernan and Mr Kelly to gauge their interest.

“Noel has this large, strategic dam, which is a good arrangement, so I have said I will do my best to try and arrange this meeting,” he said.

“We have to get the WA Water Minister and WA Agriculture Minister to realise they need to put some money in themselves.

“They keep hand balling it to the Federal Government. I am keen for the State Government to put some Royalties for Regions money into this.

“I think we need some bipartisan approach to this water shortage for the summer.

“I am calling on both Ministers to visit these parts of the Great Southern and South Coast.”

Mr Rundle said he had written to Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt to co-ordinate a video conference to explain WA’s situation.

“I just want to let him know we are teetering on the edge of something really bad if we don’t get some rain in the next three weeks,” he said.

“We need to emphasise that just because the Eastern States drought has broken, it doesn’t mean WA doesn’t need attention.

“Places like the semi-rangelands have been completely forgotten.”

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