ONE OF Australia's most productive wool and prime lamb producing regions will have access to reliable water after both the Federal and Victorian State governments committed to funding for the East Grampians pipeline.
The $85 million project has received $32 million each from both governments, with the remainder to be funded by local water users and the local water authority, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water (GWM Water).
The pipeline will supply water out of water storages in the Grampians to farmers immediately to the east of the mountain range, in areas such as Ararat, Willaura and Tatyoon in the heart of a region synonymous with sheep for over 150 years.
Upon completion, GWM Water said the project could supply 1500 farms over an area up to 5300 square kilometres, slightly larger than Trinidad and Tobago.
While the area is a traditional medium to high rainfall zone, with most farmers in the region receiving an annual rainfall of between 500-600mm, there has been a drop off in spring rainfall in recent years, lowering run-off.
With groundwater unsuitable for livestock it has placed strain on catchment dams, with some growers having to resort to carting water this autumn after a bone-dry start to the year.
Formerly extremely susceptible to drought, the Grampians-Wimmera Mallee storage network is now relatively secure as the region's old open channel system was replaced by pipes.
As a result of this, new areas such as the West Loddon and now East Grampians are being able to be connected to the system without placing untoward pressure on water resources.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack made the funding announcement in the lead-up to the Federal election, however as part of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund it was not contingent on the Coalition being re-elected.
"It will help fulfil the potential of the region, as in many other parts of Australia unlocking that potential is a case of 'just add water'," Mr McCormack said.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville agreed on the importance of the project, saying it would allow improvements in the livestock, cropping and viticulture sectors in particular.
The East Grampians region was traditionally strong Merino country, however in the past 30 years it has also become a big producer of grain, in particular canola, while in the east of the proposed pipeline zone in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, there is a vibrant wine-producing industry.
The supply is designed for stock and domestic supplies only, meaning it will not be used to irrigate grape crops, but it will provide a constant supply of quality spray water should it be required.
Sheep producers, especially those running prime lambs, are pleased that livestock will have a year-long source of high quality water.
While dam water is adequate for livestock during dry times, in particular before the autumn break, low water levels and turbidity in the water source can lead to poor water quality and increased salinity which means livestock do not finish as well as they would with clean, fresh water.
Construction is expected to start at the end of the year and will take around three years to finish, with the bulk of the water to be supplied from Lake Fyans, which can be accessed relatively easily from the east side of the Grampians.
GWM Water has assured other communities already on the pipeline the added draw on water storages would not compromise the region's water security.