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Nicola Morris - Tasmanian Irrigation

"You know that you are going to have the water regardless"

Tasmanian Irrigation (TI) says there is enough water in the state to grow the fruit and vegetable industry, it is just a matter of finding a smart way to move and utilise it more efficiently.

The organisation has built and operates irrigation schemes across Tasmania, and CEO Nicola Morris says this gives the farmers surety that water is available when they need it not just when it rains.

"Tasmania gets eleven per cent of the rainfall on two per cent of the land mass," she said. "The skill is how to harvest it. Water is an enabler for any agriculture industry. Fruit and vegetables are an example where there are diversification opportunities."

She adds that while every scheme is different, the strategy largely involves pumping water during periods of extreme flows and to store in scheme dams that sit off to the side of the rivers.

"That's where the certainty comes from, because you know that you are going to have the water regardless - dry, wet or whatever," Ms Morris said. "Every scheme is different (in terms of cost to users). It all depends on where the water comes from, how we get it to the storage and how we can deliver it to the farm. It could be gravity which is ideal or it may need to be supported by pumping which is more expensive."

TI's involvement follows a taskforce into the Tasmanian Fruit and Vegetable Industry in 2014, which made some recommendations to the organisation's committee, involving taking control in terms of managerial and financial responsibility.

"We had a one year plan and we had to develop a four year plan," said Ian Locke, Tasmanian Fruit & Vegetable Export Facilitation Group. "The reason TI wanted to be involved was that it was part of a bigger picture. Irrigation provides Farmers with certainty of water supply, they can choose what they want to grow not just grow what they can.”

Water in Tasmania is deliberately not connected with the land, which opens the door for an investor to come in and buy it and lease it to land owners. Ms Morris says with the TI schemes the water is guaranteed.

"The difference is that you are actually buying into a scheme," she said. "Our schemes have a 100 year lifecycle with 95 per cent reliability. There is a commitment there to deliver water and our forecasting and storage is based on that commitment.

She adds, some people are buying it purely for insurance.

"For example, we are building a scheme down at Circular Head, where there's a significant amount of dairy and some cropping, if it is dry from December 1 to March 30 it is insurance so they know that they can keep growing," Ms Morris said. "So the insurance, water surety can enhance what they are doing and change what they are producing. A lot of the bigger companies rely on this certainty of water for their development and growth. The opportunities were there, but until there was a guarantee of water supply they were reluctant to proceed. "

TI ensures that the water is safe, as it has an extensive monitoring process for any contamination such as blue green algae. But the bigger challenge is how to work with industry stakeholders and users to maximise water usage and minimise waste.

"There's always a finite source of everything, so it has to be about how do you utilise it, even though you know you'll get more next year," she said.

For more information:
Nicola Morris
Tasmanian Irrigation
Tel: +61 3 6398 8433

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