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Hydro Tasmania - Greater South East Irrigation Scheme

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Friday, 2 December 2022

Tags: Hydro Tasmania, Irrigation

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, change of pace to Tasmanian Irrigation. We understand that Hydro has been engaged to supply water to Tas Irrigation at Lake Meadowbank to supply the Greater South East Irrigation Scheme. The plan for that scheme is to provide 41 000 megalitres of water to Tas Irrigation, mainly during summer months. You might be aware of previous scientific work that showed any further increased water takes from the Derwent system in summer would result in significant environmental harm? Can you please confirm that the agreement to supply the Greater South East Irrigation Scheme won't have any effect on the environmental flows being released by Hydro from Lake Meadowbank?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. With regard to Meadowbank Dam, I will pass to the CEO regarding the operational aspects of your question. Hydro invests very significantly in maintenance and ongoing safety. The crest gate refurbishment at Meadowbank Dam is essential. It requires the drawdown of the lake. The surrounding landholders rely on Meadowbank's water for stock, for crops or domestic use. It's to upgrade their water extraction infrastructure. My advice is that is now settled and has come to a conclusion in a mutually agreeable way. Thanks to Hydro Tasmania for that support and likewise State Growth. With regard to the detail of the operational aspect of the question, I will pass to the CEO.

Mr BROOKSBANK - Thank you, minister.

Before I answer the question, I would like to correct a statement I made earlier in relation to dams in the high-risk category of ANCOLD. There are two dams, Edgar Dam and Scotts Peak. The risk assessment for Edgar Dam was updated in 2020 following adjustments to the relevant assessment methods under the ANCOLD guidelines. This work was completed by Entura.

Edgar Dam and Scotts Peak exceed the limit of tolerability as defined by ANCOLD, and as such that risk level warrants taking action to lower that level.

In relation to the question, Hydro Tasmania does not know the final volumes Tas Irrigation requires for its Greater South East Irrigation Scheme and no agreements have been entered into. Theoretically, there is water available, with an early indication figure of about 38 000 megalitres, which represents less than 2 per cent of the total average annual outflows from Lake Meadowbank.

Hydro Tasmania will be completing a review of the impact any takes might have on Hydro Tasmania's availability to meet its existing obligations and commitments, and I will talk more to that in a second. Hydro will continue to meet our existing environmental commitments in relation to that.

With the contemplation of the Southern Midlands Irrigation Scheme also taking water into the Derwent catchment, Hydro Tasmania will be reviewing via long-term forward-looking modelling any potential impact that water taken will have on Hydro Tasmania's ability to continue to meet our special licence obligations as well as other downstream riparian and environmental flow-in requirements, water level commitments and constraints. Hydro Tasmania would not enter into any agreements where these commitments were impacted.

Hydro Tasmania's existing commitments is to release a minimum of 18 cumex from Meadowbank Dam at all times and makes its best endeavours to achieve an average outflow of 32 cumex over a rolling five-day period.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. In relation to the irrigation scheme, I think it's fair to say that Hydro has traditionally been -

Mr BARNETT - Which irrigation scheme?

Dr WOODRUFF - The Tasmanian irrigation scheme.

Mr BARNETT - There are many. Which one are you referring to?

Dr WOODRUFF - I will get to that, minister.

Mr BARNETT - Okay, thank you.

Dr WOODRUFF - Hydro has traditionally been a non-consumptive water manager, but with the number of Tasmanian Irrigation agreements developing it does feel like a shift has occurred where Hydro is now moving into the space of being a provider for consumptive water use. Can you please explain how the organisation is thinking about this in the short term as well as the medium and longer term, bearing in mind climate change modelling, amongst many things?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much for the question. Clearly there are policies in place in terms of protecting the environmental flow but also acknowledging the importance of irrigation to agriculture and the fact that Tasmania has delivered 16 of Australia's last 19 major water infrastructure projects of which we are very pleased and proud. Having said that, I will pass to the CEO.

Mr BROOKSBANK - Thank you, minister. As I said earlier, Hydro Tasmania balances its generation needs with the needs of riparian users and other users down the various schemes that it operates in. We follow our licence conditions and at all times when we are looking and assessing a request for a water take we are taking into account all of those obligations, both those to ensure that energy is available to generate for Tasmania as well as ensuring that the existing environmental conditions and licence conditions et cetera are met.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, it's our understanding that Hydro Tasmania's special licence agreement with the Minister for Primary Industries and Water allows Hydro to transfer its rights to take water without the approval of the minister, so long as this water is supplied from water storages. Can you please detail any agreements Hydro Tasmania has with Tasmanian Irrigation to supply water in this way?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I can take it on notice if the CEO doesn't have the answer.

Mr BARNETT - Let the CEO respond to the first part of the question, and we will see what we can do to help the member.

Mr BROOKSBANK - Thank you, minister. So I am clear, can you restate the question?

Dr WOODRUFF - We understand that Hydro Tasmania's special licence agreement with Minister for Primary Industries and Water gives you the capacity to transfer rights to take water without the approval of the minister, so long as the water comes from water storages. The question is, can you detail any agreements that Hydro has with Tas Irrigation to supply water in this way?

Mr BROOKSBANK - Thank you, and through the minister, you are correct, obviously, and yes, we do have agreements with Tas Irrigation. I will have to take on notice the exact nature of those agreements.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. Minister, can we put that question on notice?


Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks, minister. Does Hydro embark on these sorts of agreements on its own terms? Or is there guidance or direction from the Government?

Mr BROOKSBANK - Through the minister. These agreements are obviously in negotiation with Tas Irrigation. The actual nature of the terms, whether they are on Hydro's terms or the other party's terms, that's the outcome of a negotiation.

Dr WOODRUFF - That wasn't my question. It was about whether the minister is involved in providing guidance or direction?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. As the CEO has indicated, there are arrangements in place in terms of Hydro Tasmania's relationship with Tas Irrigation. Certainly, it's a priority for Hydro Tasmania to provide that clean renewable energy, and also place particular importance on sustainably supporting Tasmanian irrigators. They don't make additional profits when those arrangements are put in place on the irrigation water, and Hydro Tasmania when it transfers to irrigators. They charge to cover the value of the forgone electricity that the water represents. That is the arrangement that is put in place.

Hydro Tasmania continues to meet the external requests for water for irrigation, recreation, fishing arrangements and other needs and requirements to meet mutually agreeable outcomes of Hydro Tasmania and the relevant user.