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Water debate heats up

QCA’s Angus MacDonald addresses irrigators on the details of the current SunWater pricing review.
QCA’s Angus MacDonald addresses irrigators on the details of the current SunWater pricing review.

IRRIGATORS in the Emerald distribution area are fuming over SunWater’s latest “data starved” costing submission to the Queensland Competition Authority as part of its pricing review, which will underpin the setting of irrigation prices for the next five years.

At a testy meeting in Emerald on Monday, irrigators from around the region expressed concern at the lack of information given to consultants tasked to delve into SunWater plans outlining their future operating and maintenance costs.

“The plans simply haven’t got the detail in them that everyone was expecting,” Queensland Farmers Federation water spokesman Ian Johnson said.

“For Emerald the price currently sits at about $35 per ML, and estimates done on the back of these costs show that it could increase to $54 per ML.”

SunWater has denied claims that there is a lack of transparency in its data, but irrigators, with the support of the QFF, have called on the QCA to ensure the SunWater monopoly is kept in check, and more efficiencies to be found in its operational structure.

Cotton irrigator Geoff Kavanagh said the data provided to the consultant firm Halcrow, which undertook the review of the Emerald scheme, has not been detailed enough for them to perform their job effectively.

Mr Kavanagh has been recruited by Cotton Australia to perform his own independent review of SunWater’s pricing schemes.

SunWater previously encouraged all irrigators to attend the meetings after QFF released a media statement claiming the water company was operating inefficiently and water prices would rise dramatically across all schemes.

“We were surprised by the QFF’s statement claiming SunWater to be inefficient given their close involvement in the process to date has provided them full access to the independent auditors, whose reports show the complete opposite,” a SunWater spokesperson said.

“We are confident that once irrigators have had the opportunity to see for themselves the auditors’ reports on our operational costs they will arrive at the same conclusion that SunWater is operating prudently and efficiently.”

Craig Pressler, of Emerald’s 2PH farms, questioned the consultants over SunWater’s constant change in operational structure, which he said denies the opportunity to compare current costs with historical data.

He challenged SunWater over its lack of consultancy with irrigators in the region, to which QCA’s Angus MacDonald replied: “if SunWater does not provide the information, then we will seek it from other sources.”

Submissions on SunWater’s costing outlines close on April 22, and at about midyear, irrigators can expect to see the QCA’s first submission that deals with prices.


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