FARMERS in Carabooda, Nowergup and Neerabup say planned water restrictions are threatening their future in the region.
Mark Zagar, whose family-run poultry farm has been operating in Nowergup since 1967, is a spokesman for the Carabooda, Nowergup, Neerabup Land Owner Group.
Mr Zagar said the group was concerned about potential cuts to ground water allocation, flagged by the Department of Water (DoW).
He said at the annual meeting organised by Vegetables WA last year, the DoW distributed a document that stated groundwater abstraction would need to be reduced by 25 per cent across Carabooda, Nowergup and Neerabup over the next decade.
“We were told we were a big part of the problem,” he said. “Obviously as a farmer that’s critical to my business being economically viable.”
Mr Zagar said the group believed the solution was to realise plans in the WA Planning Commission’s 2007 The Future of East Wanneroo document.
It designated Carabooda and part of Pinjar as a possible future horticultural and agricultural precinct and to the west, east of Wanneroo Road, indicated a potential rural subdivision or landscape protection area.
The precinct was proposed to be reliant on recycled water for irrigation, with investigations undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) as to its feasibility.
The plan said it would “provide a large, well-designed area that can adopt world’s best practice to provide certainty for agricultural/horticultural uses with secure leasehold land and water use rights”.
Mr Zagar said it was “extremely frustrating” the plan had not been implemented. “The area needs to be rezoned. It’s impossible to have agriculture with a 10 per cent cut in water let alone 25 per cent,” he said.
“Farmers would be able to do their jobs much better if it was a horticulture-only zone without conflicting land uses.
“All farmers would love to have a new future-proof, horticulture-only use precinct with water….to create the capital needed to invest in new techniques.”
He said large producers and well known families such as the Trandos and Montes had already moved farther north near Gingin to grow their businesses but would consider returning if the precinct was established.
DoW water assessment and allocation director Susan Worley told the Weekender the 2009 Gnangara groundwater areas allocation plan showed allowances across the three localities was three gigalitres more than what was considered sustainable and would be reviewed to address the imbalance.
She said when the plan was developed average annual rainfall was 729mm but had since dropped to 649mm.
“Between now and 2030 we expect an average of less than 700mm, with low rainfall years occurring more often,” she said. “The risk of continuing the imbalance between water in and water out is that the rate of groundwater decline will continue and groundwater will be harder to access.
“The Department of Water is currently analysing the latest scientific data and taking practical advice from Gnangara groundwater users to work out where, when and how best we can reduce our total groundwater use.”
Ms Worley said the details of a “rebalanced” system would be developed through the next groundwater allocation plan, due for release later this year.
“We will be working with water users to identify a sustainable balance and groundwater recovery pathways that are staged to minimise impacts on people and businesses,” she said.
Wanneroo Mayor Tracey Roberts said the City was “an enduring supporter of agribusiness”.
“We seek State Government support to create a zoning policy and framework for the protection of agricultural land, the creation of agri-precincts and the investigation of alternative water sources for agricultural purposes,” she said.
Mrs Roberts said it would continue to work with all relevant stakeholders, especially the DoW.
Mr Zagar agreed co-operation was needed.
“We all need to work together for a shared goal of economic prosperity for the region, not just a few,” he said.
He believed a “future proof” site was needed for growers and said consideration should be given to many of the families’ long history in the area.
“We’re the pioneering families of Wanneroo,” he said.
“We did it tough. We’ve done some very hard yards here.
“It’s wrong any government department could wipe out our life’s work.”
What the major parties say:
MAJOR party representatives held separate meetings with growers in the area late last year.
Wanneroo MLA Paul Miles said following the original meeting he had established a working group comprising farmers, Vegetables WA and Department of Water representatives and led by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
His preferred solution is in line with the 2007 plan; he supports a horticultural and agricultural only area that could be irrigated using outflow from Alkimos wastewater treatment plant that currently empties into the ocean.
“Let’s turn the pipe around and send it inland,” he said.
“There is one way to fix it and that is to use the water from the wastewater treatment plant and inject it into the aquifer for farmers to use.”
Though it was proposed 10 years ago, Mr Miles said it was “never viable” and they did not then understand the “science” of the aquifer.
“I think the timing is now right for it,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Mark Lewis said he could not comment on the working group’s findings as they were received after the State Government’s election caretaker period commenced but if re-elected, the Liberal Party would request DAFWA lead a planning process to “develop a master plan for the Carabooda/Nowergup/Neerabup agricultural area.”.
“This planning process will draw on the information contained in a number of reports relevant to this area,” he said.
According to Mr Miles, the plan could be created within two years.
Labor’s North Metropolitan Upper House candidate Alannah MacTiernan, who headed the 2007 document as then Planning and Infrastructure Minister, said she was disappointed “very little” had been implemented since (the party lost office) in 2008.
“Nothing has been done to advance the new agricultural precinct,” she said.
“You don’t want to force your fruit and vegetables too far away from your city.”
The party offered a similar promise, committing to form a reference group comprising community stakeholders within in its first term of government if elected.
Candidate for Wanneroo and Nowergup resident Sabine Winton said they would develop an “informed solution” based on the stakeholders’ input.
She said the party had extensive knowledge of the region and would consult with the community “effectively and broadly” to solve the issue.