A review of institutional arrangements in the Burdekin irrigation area with a view to managing sustainable farming practices in the region : SRDC final report CG018
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In the late 1980’s the Burdekin dam commenced operation and resulted in a large area of land being cleared and converted to irrigation. This influx of water has caused the groundwater level to rise alarmingly over the past 20 years from its previous level typically 10 to 15 meters below the surface to around 0.5m in some places in 2009. This is an alarming increase and if not rectified and reversed quickly will lead to significant crop losses and is likely to render some land unviable for farming in the next 5 years.The original objective of the project was to review of institutional arrangements in the Burdekin Irrigation Area with a view to managing sustainable farming practices in the region. These objectives have been achieved in the project and the project has gone far beyond the original objective of the project. We are now almost 6 months into implementation which was considered beyond the realistic scope of the original project.A consultant undertook an analysis of the current state of the BRIA groundwater system and made recommendations on what needs to be done in the BRIA to correct the groundwater problem. The consultant also made broad estimates of a range of possible leakages that may be occurring from irrigation and leaking channels since there was inadequate data to be more accurate.If the trend in groundwater levels continues to rise over the 10 years it is reasonable to expect that large areas of the BRIA will taken permanently out of cane production. Although it is hard to estimate how much area could be affected it would be likely that at least 10 per cent of the BRIA would be at risk which is around 4000ha. At 115t/ha average production this amounts to almost 0.5mt of cane could be lost out of the industry if the groundwater problem is not fixed. At current sugar prices, this would be a loss of aver $30m in sugar production alone.The next phase of the project has already commenced and is about implementation of the plan developed in this project. There is a significant need for further funds for this to be successful. CANEGROWERS in currently investing in employing a consultant to develop an automated flood irrigation system for the BRIA as outlined previously in this report. This is due for completion in June 2010 and if it is successful we will be able to roll this out commercially to growers in the BRIA and encourage uptake.