Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Water going to waste on drought-hit farms

Hundreds of drought-stricken farms across Queensland and NSW could be protected from the dry spell using bore water from the Great Artesian Basin.

August 17, 2018

The sheep on the Stokes family’s southern Queensland farm can have food or water, but they can’t have both.

Kate and Steve Stokes’ 50,000-acre Mulga Downs property, just north of the NSW border near Lightning Ridge, has more water than they can use.

A free-flowing uncapped bore, dug out in 1896, cascades clear water at 1600 litres per minute all day, every day.

The only problem is, it’s the wrong place and flows away through a 60 km long bore drain bypassing much of the land where their stock feed.

The family knows the bore could be their salvation if they could find the money to control the water and pipe it to their sheep.

But during a drought money is tight and the Stokes’ cash flow has all but dried up, former accountant turned cocky Kate told AAP on Friday.

“It’s a good source of water but it just follows the lay of the land,” she said.

“We want to cap and pipe it and put troughs in, and make ourselves more drought tolerant and sustainable … it would save a lot of water too.”

The Stokes family is not alone, across Queensland and NSW there are more than 500 bores and 6500 kilometres of bore drains that need to be re-drilled and controlled if landholders are to put the water to better use.

Groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin, Australia’s largest underground water source, flows under more than 20 per cent of the country through four states.

But when left to flow freely out of uncontrolled bores around 95 per cent of the water is lost through evaporation and seepage.

Federal government subsidies for bore work have been available for decades but farmers must first find the money themselves and complete the work before they can make a claim.

AgForce policy manager Dale Miller says that’s a big ask during a drought.

He said approval processes are also slow-moving due to a lack of government funds.

“This current phase of the initiative is over a two-year period and effectively we’re halfway through that time but we’re yet to see much happen on the ground,” he said.

“What we need is firm funding commitments from the federal and state governments going forward.”

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