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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1102

Mr BRUMBY(11.56) —Over a period of some decades the people of north central Victoria, the Mallee and the Wimmera have been concerned at the availability, conservation and distribution of water supplies. Water demands for domestic, stock and irrigation purposes have been streadily increasing, and the recent drought has highlighted the very precarious situation in which Victoria as a whole is situated in regard to the lack of adequate water resources. The major source of water supply throughout the Wimmera and Mallee areas, and to a lesser extent north central Victoria, is via the Wimmera-Mallee stock and domestic water supply system.

It is worth noting the Wimmera-Mallee system is the largest of its kind in the world. The water supply is derived from storages in the Grampians, from river flows and from the diversion of southern-flowing streams. Distribution of the water over an area of 28,500 square kilometres-almost one-seventh of Victoria-is by means of a massive 16,000 kilometres of earthen channel. Deliveries are made for stock and domestic purposes to 22,000 farm dams and 51 towns annually, and for irrigation purposes to some 2,800 hectares in the vicinity of Horsham and Murtoa. Because the distribution of the water is through an open earth channel system, enormous seepage and evaporative losses occur. Of the 165,000 megalitres released into the channels each year for the system, a mere 43,000 megalitres-or 26 per cent-of the water is delivered to town storages and farm dams. Seepage over more than 60 years has built of up regional ground water levels, which in many areas have been close enough to the surface for salting to occur.

Water quality has also been affected. Water entering the system from the Grampians is of excellent quality, yet by the time it reaches some properties near the end of the line it is virtually undrinkable. In Wedderburn, in my electorate of Bendigo, domestic water tested last year by the Department of Agriculture gave a reading of 1,250 p.p.m.-parts per million-total desolved salts, more than double the World Health Organisation recommended standard.

The only permanent solution to the problems of evaporation, seepage and water quality is to replace the open earthen channels with pipes. Piping of the Wimmera-Mallee system was first proposed in 1944, but government funding shortages have continually delayed commencement of the project.

The Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply Commission has estimated that piping the system would save 144,000 megalitres of water a year-a massive amount , and almost twice the capacity of Lake Bellfield in the Grampians. The cost of piping the whole system-estimated at some $300m-is less than the cost of constructing a new water storage facility of comparable size, and obviously represents a more efficient use of a scarce and valuable resource. Just as importantly, such a scheme would conserve our vital water resources, improve the living standards of country Victorians, and safeguard the $900m of income generated annually by agriculture in the Wimmera-Mallee area.

As a very strong supporter of this scheme over a long time I was, of course, naturally disappointed that our Government announced in last week's economic statement that this project is to be indefinitely postponed because of the severe budgetary limitations presently facing this Government and the Australian people. While I am disappointed, I must also place on the record that I totally support the Government's economic statement and management priorities, particularly in regard to reducing the massive Budget deficit of $9.6 billion inherited from the previous Government and now Opposition. I would add that in my view the best chance that the Wimmera-Mallee scheme has of proceeding and progressing in the future will be by way of sustained economic growth and increased employment and a return to economic prosperity. I have no doubt that the continued responsible economic policies adopted by this Government will lead to that sustained economic growth. It will lead to a higher employment level and greater prosperity and, through that economic responsibility, enhance the future possibilities and opportunities of this scheme proceeding.

Tuesday, 27 May 1983