Doblo says Rookwood won't have enough water for agriculture
COLOURFUL Rockhampton businessman Dominic Doblo has blasted the Rookwood Weir project saying it won't provide enough water for agriculture.
The formal mayoral candidate believed having only 35000ML allocated for agriculture was short-sighted and wasn't enough for CQ to compete at an international level with other agricultural power-house regions like Bundaberg and Emerald, who had access to over one million megalitres of water storage.
He said Rookwood Weir would only allow five to seven big farms, like those based in Bundaberg, who use seven to eight ML annually and the big international players wouldn't be interested in trying to secure a tiny allocation from the weir.
"Am I the dummy? Am I really that stupid thinking that 35000ML is going to create an international food bowl? Compared to a million [megalitres]?” Mr Doblo said.
"International buyers aren't interested in buying a farm that uses 500ML if they were, the Chinese would be jumping up and down to buy the rights for Rookwood Weir.
"It's only a toy on the international scale, there's not enough water there.”
He said when Rookwood was finished, it was claimed that 2000 jobs would be created by the project but he couldn't see where they would be coming from.
"Because I'll guarantee that five farms in Bundaberg or Emerald that use 35000ML, don't employ 2000 people all year round,” Mr Doblo said.
"We've got the Fitzroy River, the biggest river system on the east coast of Australia and we're playing around with 35000ML for agriculture.”
Mr Doblo admitted he was yet to read the business case for Rookwood Weir, that detailed the economic viability of the project which relied upon industrial and urban users in addition to agricultural subscribers.
The business case pointed to the need for the agricultural lands which were unlocked by the weir to support the production of a variety of high value horticulture crops including sandalwood, macadamia nuts, irrigated cropping and for cattle feed-lots.
Mr Doblo believes CQ has the perfect climate to grow two crops a year and accused the government of not thinking about the big picture and future opportunities.
"This debate needs to be had, why spend $300m on something where as you could spend a billion dollars and do it properly for future generations,” he said.
"The Chinese are buying land here for water, they are not buying land out in the desert, they want the water.
"Are we going to get serious in this country or are we just going to keep copping what's given to us?”
He has passionately lobbied for years for the Gap Dam project to get off the ground, which would be situated 140km from the mouth of the Fitzroy River, north-west of Rockhampton.
Mr Doblo views the Gap Dam as more viable and ambitious long term project for storing larger quantities of water to unlock the agricultural potential for the region but he has been unable to generate traction and funding for a proper feasibility study.
"Why can't we build Rookwood Weir and make it the first stage of the Gap Dam?” he asked.
"It's only 100km down the river, they've already done all the eco-studies, it's all the same part of the river system, the same land, the same everything, you could build the first stage at half a million ML and you could add to it and turn it to whatever size you want.”
Mr Doblo believed the region should be aspiring towards constructing a successful forward thinking project similar to Emerald's Fairbairn Dam, with its a capacity of 1.2 million ML.
"When they first built the Fairbairn Dam in the 1970s, it was a white elephant but look at it today, Emerald was nothing before the Fairbairn Dam went in,” he said.
Mr Doblo said Rookwood Weir's water pricing was also an issue requiring us to "change our attitude to make it cheaper”.
In 2014, The Morning Bulletin reported a pre-feasibility study had determined that damming the Fitzroy River at The Gap would be too expensive ($9b total) and would flood the best arable land in the catchment.
The study supported previous investigations by the Department of Natural Resources in 2006 and the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission in 1976, which both concluded the dam would flood the best arable land and not provide a good return on investment.
In 2015, a water expert was quoted saying "the bigger the dam in central Queensland, the higher the blue-green algae risk” due to the way the water layers didn't mix effectively compared with other water systems.
The 2015 draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Lower Fitzroy River Infrastructure Project was not supportive of the construction of the Fitzroy Gap Dam saying "a 'mega-dam' does not allow for incremental development in response to increasing demand”.
"Environmental impacts on the aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial flora and fauna and loss of land associated with inundation will be considerably more severe than the [Rookwood] Project due to impoundment outside of the river bed and bank,” the report said.
When asked by The Morning Bulletin last year (while he was still the Agricultural Minister), Barnaby Joyce rubbished the Gap Dam idea saying that he wouldn't support a feasibility study given not only would the dam's water cover too much arable land but it would also be too shallow.
Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Dr Anthony Lynham defended his government's push for Rookwood Weir, which now had joint state and commonwealth funding, rather than Mr Doblo's preferred Gap Dam option.
"The demand assessment undertaken for Rookwood Weir indicates demand for water volumes better match the size of Rookwood Weir, rather than a large storage such as Gap Dam,” Dr Lynham said.
"Previous studies looking at the Gap Dam proposal also showed that a very large storage (such as Gap Dam) would have a larger impact in terms of inundating arable land and environmental impacts, at a very significant cost due to the infrastructure's scale.”
He said the 76,000 megalitres of water Rookwood would eventually provide will mean high value agricultural production along the Fitzroy River within two years of construction starting.
"In the immediate short term, it offers 100 construction jobs, as well as a back-up supply to Livingstone Shire, Rockhampton and Gladstone as they grow,” Dr Lynham said.
"The business case looked at urban, agricultural, and industrial water use into the future and calculated a design life of 100 years and this includes demand from agricultural producers.”
In the Rookwood Weir business case, it listed the following anticipated benefits:
- Additional water made available for customers along the Lower Fitzroy River
- An increase in regional employment from increased agricultural production
- Reduced costs associated with a 'failed wet season' for Rockhampton
- The avoidance of the costs associated with the future development and operation of a weir on the Lower Fitzroy River
- Improved access and connectivity.