Expert pours cold water on controversial scheme

Tristan WheelerManjimup-Bridgetown Times
Former DWER director general has spoken out against the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme.
Camera IconFormer DWER director general has spoken out against the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme. Credit: Manjimup-Bridgetown Times

A former director general of the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation has spoken out against the Southern Forests Irrigation Scheme, saying the modelling for the controversial proposal is flawed.

Hydrologist Kim Taylor fronted the Manjimup Shire Council on Thursday to speak against the scheme, which would see water taken from the Donnelly River and stored in a 15 gigalitre dam to be constructed on Record Brook.

“The modelling work that DWER have done is very flawed, there is no way they can reliably predict future stream flows based on the work they’ve done,” Mr Taylor told the Manjimup Bridgetown Times.

“We know it is misleading because the stream flows, the actual stream flows in the Donnelly River over the last 10 years, show that the scheme cannot provide 9GL of water at high reliability. Even if built now it would struggle to provide 6GL of water.

“With a further drying climate, it would be lucky to supply two to three gigalitres in the future, so it just doesn’t make sense.”

A DWER spokesman said the department estimated the scheme would have been able to supply 6.5GL, on average, per year between 2011 and 2019.

Southern Forests Irrigation Co-operative chief executive Jeremy Bower also presented at the briefing and said he disputed Mr Taylor’s conclusions.

“It’s easy to throw up figures like that when he doesn’t need to be held to account,” he said.

“The department of water, backed by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO are saying we will have, even out to 2050, there will be more than double the amount per annum than Mr Taylor is suggesting.

“We rely on DWER for the science and their independent consultants, they’ve investigated the environmental and reliability risks using standard approaches to assess the risk of future climate scenarios, including very dry climate projections. That approach has been reviewed by BOM and the CSIRO, so with all due respect to Mr Taylor, I’m quite comfortable with who we are getting advice from.”

Controversy arose at the briefing when shire president Paul Omodei ruled councillors could not ask Mr Taylor or Mr Bower questions, despite an email from CEO Andrew Campbell saying presenters could address questions from councillors.

Attendee Peter McGinty questioned the ruling, but was told to sit down by Cr Omodei.

“I think Kim spoke very well and got his points across, but we had been told by the shire CEO prior to the meeting that councillors would have the right to ask questions, so we adjusted our delivery based on that letter,” Mr McGinty said.

“I think to pull that, it downgraded Paul’s stance there, I thought it was a pretty poor performance.”

Cr Omodei said he had decided to prevent questions because he judged the meeting would have gotten out of hand.

“If I’d have allowed questions there would have been claim and counterclaim, it could have descended into chaos and I would have had to close it down,” he said.

“I was a little annoyed by a couple of the farmers trying to interject. In the end they need to understand that the presiding officer is in charge of the meeting.”

Mr Taylor said he wanted to see taxpayers funds used in the best manner for the horticulture industry in the Manjimup area.

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