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Water deficiency triggers government intervention on WA's south coast amid animal welfare concerns

Jon Daly, Thursday May 16, 2019 - 13:35 EST
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Mallee Hill farmer, Noel Bairstow warns of many more farms needing help if rain does not fall soon. - ABC

Two areas in Western Australia's southern grain belt have been declared 'water deficient' by the State Government in little over a week.



It has been about eight years since water scarcity has been officially recognised in any part of the state.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) have begun carting water to provide affected farmers with enough to hydrate their remaining livestock.

The State Government said these measures were taken as a last resort and were the result of prolonged dry conditions associated with climate change.

Farms along a coastal strip between Albany and Hopetoun in the state's south-east, and inland through the Lakes District have had well-below average, and in some cases, .

For some farms, in early 2017 was the last significant rainfall event.

'Just the start'



Farmers are warning more declarations will come soon if rain does not.

A 'water deficiency declaration' is a State Government response to safeguard the welfare of livestock and the commercial viability of farmers during very dry periods.



It occurs when an application to local government is made by a group of five or more farmers, within a 20-kilometre radius, who must travel more than 40 kilometres to access emergency water.

So far, the extra help will only benefit about 14 farms in the areas of Mount Short and Mallee Hill, in the local government areas of Ravensthorpe and Lake Grace.

, Mallee Hill farmer, Noel Bairstow has been spent the last three months carting water for the cattle that remain.

"I've been spraying until lunchtime, then from lunchtime until 10 o'clock at night I've been in a water tanker trying to get the water out," Mr Bairstow said.

"Before we had the declaration we were travelling up to 40-55 kilometres for water. This will bring us within 10 kilometres, and that's a lot of difference."

Mr Bairstow said many more would need assistance if rain does not arrive soon.

"This is just the start of it. It's going to be huge," he said.



Climate change effects

While he was not aware of any other imminent declarations, WA Water Minister, Dave Kelly said an increasing area of the state was being impacted by dry conditions.

"It's an impact of the drying climate that we're experiencing," he said.



"We're not sitting back waiting for [declarations] to come in.

"The Water Corporation and DWER are very proactive about locating additional community water resources we can bring online."

In 2017, many of the parched regions on

For farmers like Andrew Chambers, who lives north of Ravensthorpe, that flood was the last significant rainfall event.

"We've gone from flood to famine," he said.

"[We] just haven't had any runoff water since February 2017.

"Where we have had the odd thunderstorm, the evaporation has taken all of that."

Outdated declaration system

The process to attain a water deficiency declaration was set out in 2006, and it was last triggered in WA's south-east locality of Salmon Gums in 2011.

But the grower group, Ravensthorpe Agricultural Initiative Network (RAIN) is calling for that system to be reviewed.

RAIN executive officer, Elisa Spengler said the declaration process seemed outdated.



"You need a group of farmers to approach the shire, who then contacts another government agency, who then goes to the minister," she said.

"It could've been a bit of a quicker process I would've thought.

"There's access to some good rainfall data these days which shows [the area] was rainfall deficient for the last 12 months."

Ms Spengler also pointed to the onus placed on farmers, who were already struggling, to trigger the application.

"You do wonder about things like mental health in these situations," Ms Spengler said.

Mr Kelly was confident there was no need for review and said farmers in need of help needed to step forward and ask for it.

As of this week, WA farmers can now access the federal On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme, which provides a one-off, 25 per cent rebate for the costs of eligible water infrastructure expenses.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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