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Friday analysis: turning on the water works for the Green Triangle

GTFIH chair Ian McDonnell

The Green Triangle region is blessed with a regular supply of rain. Mount Gambier, for example, gets around 660 mm (around 26 inches) of rain falls annually. So, it seems somewhat contradictory that the timber industry in the Green Triangle has a water problem. And not just a water problem, but a long-standing water problem.

It all goes back to the Millennium Drought which lasted from 2001 to 2009.

In the Green Triangle drought was a word rarely used, and even more rarely experienced.

For the Green Triangle the result was inequitable water policies of successive state governments written, perhaps, in a sense of panic.

In terms of forestry, the issue at the time was the amount of water trees took from the aquifer.

To make the problem worse, the forestry industry largely did not take part in the negotiations over the water policies.

A review was clearly needed.

The Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub (GTFIH) presented its preliminary water research findings to Water and Environment Minister David Speirs as it prepares for the review of the region’s Water Allocation Plan in 2023.

Working in collaboration with UniSA, the University of Melbourne and Esk Mapping, the Hub has undertaken extensive research over the past 12 months to better understand plantation water use to support government in its resource management decision making.

GTFIH chair Ian McDonnell said that while the existing policy had largely relied on forestry rules to be based on a matter of judgement, these water experts are undertaking this comprehensive research to develop more accurate methods for consideration.

That has to be the first step.

The industry needs to have accurate data on exactly how much water a plantation uses in its lifetime.

Researchers have developed a simple empirical model of plantation water use which will be finessed over the coming months to better represent actual plantation extraction data, which may result in more groundwater resource availability than previously assumed.

The industry must have that data to successfully state its case.