Water is a critical input for Queensland’s agricultural sector, essential to produce world class food, fibre and foliage. To ensure the fair and equitable use of such a highly valued natural-resource, water planning based on scientific analysis of hydraulic catchments is essential, particularly in a changing climate, while subsequent measurement is a necessity for its equitable, efficient and sustainable management. Metering demonstrates the sectors compliance with regulatory requirements associated with water allocations while assisting growers to recognise efficiencies and make valuable on-farm decisions impacting productivity.
Recent consultation by the Queensland Government on a new metering policy has highlighted the substantial financial costs associated with water metering. There is significant concern that the cost of water metering may result in agricultural businesses becoming non-viable, particularly at a time where many farmers do not have any water allocations and therefore no access to water. With the price of water and the associated pumping costs becoming cost prohibitive for many farmers, those required to replace or install new meters, will find the additional upfront capital cost unaffordable, and compounding these impacts for those farms with multiple offtakes. Several stakeholders have quoted indicative costs of $11,000 for the meter alone not including any infrastructure works or upgrades; whilst the metering costs associated with offtakes over 400mm increase exponentially. For installation of meters with a data logger and telemetry capability, these costs increase further.
Privacy and more particularly, the Queensland Government’s intended use of data collected is also a deeply contentious issue for farmers. There is a pervading concern that water use data collected across catchments could be used to publicly villainise individual farmers, catchments and the agriculture sector. The application of water is also associated with commercial and sometimes business-sensitive decisions, access to water after all is a competitive advantage. While there is in-principle support across Queensland’s farmers for water metering to enable accuracy, verification and transparency in water transactions, there must be further and ongoing consultation across stakeholders to determine the affordability, implementation timeframes, status of existing metering, options for non-natural water resources, and the protection of data.
Growers depend on water to nourish their land and are extremely concerned about the health of their hydraulic catchments and the continuation of environmental flows which sustain our environment. As such, metering and compliance to stated limits for the sustainable extraction of water from natural systems is essential. QFF supports the water planning framework and the scientific determination of sustainable limits, with measurement against allocations. However, the costs associated with implementing water metering must provide a meaningful return on investment which may never be realised for smaller allocations, and it must consider the current economic pressures on farmers, particularly in drought-impacted areas.