Look who's thirsty for our dam
WATER - it's an invaluable commodity in these parts, especially for irrigators who have fresh memories of drought and floods on their minds.
A wave of concern has started to flow through the ranks of Central Highlands irrigators with talk that mining billionaire Gina Rinehart is actively purchasing water from the Fairbairn Dam from producers who are selling their allocations.
Although Ms Rinehart's Hancock Coal was unable to confirm any details yesterday, the CQ News was made aware of the purchases from numerous local sources.
On the back of three years of falling prices and rising costs, some irrigators are looking for capital anywhere they can get it, and selling off allocations may offer a reprieve.
But with SunWater scrapping the proposed Connors River Dam, which was set to quench the thirst of the emerging mega mines in the Galilee Basin, there is a growing unease that the brunt of development pressure will fall back on the Fairbairn Dam.
Mining companies acquiring water allocations is nothing new, and it's not illegal. But with billions of dollars of development planned for the region, the prospect of it getting out of hand highlights a danger for agriculture, according to Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association president Ross Burnett.
"While there is nothing underhand going on - it is their water to sell, and it's likely been sold for a number of reasons - it still sets a dangerous precedent because that water would have originally been destined for crops," Mr Burnett said.
"It's got the potential to reduce the local economy in the way that it affects all the support industries - for instance the Emerald cotton gin. If there are fewer acres being planted then there's less work for all the support industries.
"It has been done before (mining acquisitions of water), but the scale of it is different and has potential to continue growing."
After SunWater failed to gain financial backing for its Connors River Dam project, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney revealed the government turned its attention to the Fairbairn Dam, and has fast-tracked a review of other options in the region.
"The government considers there is scope for supply from the Burdekin Falls Dam and is looking at the Fairbairn Dam possibilities," he said.
"The government is also looking at all options for water storage in the Galilee Basin - both dam sites and off-stream storages."
Rural lobby group AgForce was also worried about the waves Ms Rinehart was causing at the dam.
Incoming president Ian Burnett said irrigators had a fair concern about the future of their valuable resource.
"I think there's a worry that with the Connors River Dam going under, there's a question about where all the water for future developments will come from," he said.
Hancock Coal, SunWater and the Minister for Energy and Water Supply were contacted but no response was received by the time of print.