action-story | 17th Feb, 2012

Peter Cummins: owner and operator of Waterwheel Wines in Bridgewater

ActionStory_Peter Story“Our family grew tomatoes all around Bridgewater for 30, 40 years. So we purchased water from the Waterwheel business that was here behind us and we brought the winery business from them in 1989. There’s two reasons we stopped growing tomatoes: no water, and the other reason is that Australia has the highest concentration of retail spending in supermarkets in the world.

People in Melbourne, they’ve already forgotten about the drought and water restrictions. Arguably it should be ingrained in us people in the country, and farmers in particular who have had their livelihoods strangled by it.

But even I’m a bit ‘Oh yeah, it was dry, wasn’t it?’ You just forget but geez was it bloody desperate. By 2010 even the sub-surface moisture must have been exhausted because instead of getting about half our normal yield we got about 10 per cent. Sweet sod all. If 2011 had turned out like 2010 we would have been rooted. There was no water to be had. As for our vines, we’ve had no water for five years.

The Loddon River is not a great river. The best water in Australia is in the Murrumbidgee. The next best is the Murray – it’s about twice as salty. The Goulburn River is about twice as salty as the Murray; still good water. But the Loddon is about twice as salty as that. The Murrumbidgee is about 100 ECUs (Electrical Conductivity Units), next to nothing. The Murray is about 200, 250 – still nothing. The Goulburn runs about 200 to 400. But typically the river here runs about 800 to 1500 ECUs, and that’s normal here in Bridgewater. But during the drought it got up to about 3000ECUs. That’s one tenth as salty as sea water.

Far and away the biggest use of the Loddon is to supplement the irrigation water out of the Goulburn River. Over 80 percent of all the entitlements for diversions are not on the Loddon River. The Loddon joins up with a canal that comes out of the Goulburn River and together they go out west and that’s where the entitlements go. The Loddon is like the Campaspe as the last river that flows easily in to the Murray. It spreads out like an inland delta.

The MDB Commission was charged with writing a report that would fix the river. It was a scientific report that was to be presented to parliament and acted upon. But obviously there was a lack of will on behalf of the government. The inevitable happened – the chairman fell on his sword, the government washed their hands of it and ultimately it’s been a political decision. So it’s a bit of a farce. Have you read how much is going to come out of the ground – about as much as the environmental flows, about 2700 gigalitres? What it means is that people will be able to yell and scream but there’ll be no change to the way water is used. It was a shocking piece of politics.”

By Ian Kenins, Environment Victoria, February 2012