Southern Downs Mayor Peter Blundell has pulled his support for Emu Swamp Dam.
Southern Downs Mayor Peter Blundell has pulled his support for Emu Swamp Dam. Erin Smith

Southern Downs Mayor: ‘Emu Swamp Dam not our job’

ALMOST 12 months to the day since Emu Swamp Dam was given State Government approval, Peter Blundell has pulled his support for the project, stating he did not believe agricultural water supply was the responsibility of the council.

At the council's September general meeting the Stanthorpe Community Reference Panel (SCRP) on behalf of the chamber of commerce sub-committee the Emu Swamp Irrigators (ESI) requested the Southern Downs Regional Council put forward $10,000 towards a $55,000 business case built by engineering firm Jacobs.

While the councillors voted in favour of the motion moved by Cr Jamie Mackenzie, Cr Blundell was critical of the proposal, citing that the brief provided by the ESI did not adequately address how Emu Swamp Dam would impact on urban water supply.

"I'm concerned about continuing to fund this project, when we've already spent $3.9 million on it," he said.

"It's like having the tiger by the tail where we're afraid to walk away from it because we didn't get the result we'd hoped for by now.

"Is this the best value water we can get or not? Is ESD the only option for agricultural water because we are aware of several other options for urban.

"My concern is that we are continually required to put more funds towards this project but I struggle to see that we get any closer to achieving the end goal."

Cr Blundell also said he disagreed with the notion that shoring up agricultural water supply was the council's job.

"My belief is that it is our responsibility to secure urban and industrial water to this area," he said.

"If agricultural water is achievable it should be done so at the best price possible."

The driver behind the business case was ESI's lack of faith in the irrigators' survey recently conducted by the council.

By building the case the ESI and SCRP hope to determine the cost of water allocations allowing growers confidence in estimated annual water charges.

The ESI also hopes to provide a detailed and informed response to commercial questions regarding volume of water allocations the irrigators will purchase at various price points with an appropriate business plan that can be taken to funding partners such as the Federal Government.

To ensure all stakeholders have some ownership over the case, the ESI has invited financial contributions from both the council and the Project Control Group representing State Government interests.

Since July 1980, the SDRC and its predecessor the Stanthorpe Shire Council have poured almost $4million into the ESD project during which time a total of 64 different studies and reports have been conducted.

Deputy mayor Ross Bartley said he was not prepared to just "wipe away" $3.9million worth of investment.

"I was sitting in the Warwick council chambers when the old Stanthorpe Shire Council made the call to ask us to truck water from Connolly Dam because they were hours from running out of water," he said.

"What happens when we're sitting here on a hot summer's day talking about trucking water in at an astronomical cost - I don't ever want to see a community run out of water.

"If we want growth in our community, we need water, if we want a horticultural industry, we need water and if it means spending $10,000 to get us over the edge then so be it."

The requested $10,000 will come from the $20,000 set aside in the 2015/2016 council budget.

SDRC CEO David Keenan and Cr Blundell met with the Federal Member for New England and newly appointed Minister for Water, Barnaby Joyce, last Thursday.

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