The contentious Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme is officially damned after it was scrapped it in favour of a separate future water security plan.
Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan on Friday announced the State Government would not proceed with the program, which would have seen water pumped from the Middle Donnelly River to a 15-gigalitre dam at Record Brook and then distributed through more than 250km of pipelines to about 100 farmers between Manjimup and Pemberton.
Ms MacTiernan said earlier this year the water modelling for the scheme was no longer viable, which threw the multi-million-dollar project into doubt.
But she said in Manjimup on Friday the State Government was still committed to ensuring future water security, with a brand new task force set to be formed to investigate future water use and management.
The reference group will be established to provide advice on alternative measures to deliver water security for the area’s horticultural sector to respond to climate change challenges.
The group will be chaired by former Department of Agriculture and Food Director General Ian Longson and have representatives from the local horticultural industry, as well as Warren-Blackwood MLA Jane Kelsbie.
Reports by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found climate change and lowering of the water table has significantly altered the supply of available water from the Donnelly River. The results confirm the scheme is likely to supply less water on average than was originally proposed for the scheme, indicating the dam on Record Brook is not viable.
Ms MacTiernan said the State Government remained committed to working with the community to develop sustainable and cost-effective ways to provide water security in the face of a drying climate.
“We have shared the emerging water data with industry over the past year, and so this decision will not be of surprise,” she said.
“Our determination is to find practical alternatives to a dam on Record Brook, as the protection of this horticultural precinct is of great importance to WA’s food security.
“Mr Longson brings a wealth of experience to the role across agriculture and natural resource management.”
Warren-Blackwood MLA Jane Kelsbie said she has spent significant time in Manjimup listening to the concerns of the community regarding water security and equitable access since being elected in March 2021.
The State Government has pledged the remaining $16 million to water security in the region, with $3 million already spent on the scheme.
Nomination for the horticultural representative spots on reference group are now being sought.