'Just add water': transformation in sight for suffering town
THE battle to secure water for the Lockyer Valley has been ongoing for many years and recent developments means there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But one long-time fighter recalls when the chance to do just that slipped through his fingers after frustrating meetings with a future Prime Minister that hit a brick wall.
Linton Brimblecombe, a fourth-generation farmer in Forest Hill, said the idea of using recycled water from Brisbane for irrigation in the valley was first mooted in 1996.
The Lockyer Water Users Forum was formed and they ran with the idea.
The work done by the forum culminated in a presentation to the Federal Government seeking funding for what was essentially an irrigation scheme in the Lockyer, as well as a proposal to manage existing water, in 2006.
They met with then-minister for water and the environment Malcolm Turnbull but he rejected the proposal on the basis that valley irrigators did not have a state water supply agreement in place.
"During this time the State Government was in a crisis for water supply to Brisbane," Mr Brimblecombe said.
"(Then Premier) Peter Beattie essentially implemented our proposal of connecting all the sewerage plants together and treating it centrally at Bundamba. But instead of using it for irrigation, the proposal then was to use it for drinking water, supplying it to Wivenhoe.
"Beattie was at that point in negotiations with (then Prime Minister) John Howard for federal money to fund the western corridor pipeline."
Mr Brimblecombe said Mr Beattie was told by the PM the money would be granted only if he negotiated a water supply agreement with the Lockyer irrigators, which was done.
"We successfully negotiated a water supply agreement with the state government at that time for supplying 37,000 or 30,000ML of recycled water to the Lockyer Valley for irrigation, and 7000ML to the mid-Brisbane irrigators." he said.
So with the proposal in hand, growers returned to Mr Turnbull seeking capital funding.
But Mr Turnbull told them it was a no go, because the national water infrastructure program was out of money and so they had to apply to a new body.
Mr Howard called the election, Labor were victorious and "the rest is history."
HOW HARD WORK GOT FARMERS OVER THE LINE
SIGNIFICANT steps towards securing water for the Lockyer Valley region have been taken in recent months.
That progress has been built off the hard work and tenacity of irrigators; some of whom were there from day one and are still key players, including Gordon Van der Est and Paul Emmerson.
Mr Brimblecombe said the current proposal, where water would be piped from Wivenhoe Dam, is "pretty well a carbon copy" of the idea from more than 20 years ago and he was excited by the progress being made.
Irrigators were presented the new framework for the Draft Moreton Water Resource Plan late last month, concerning water allocations, which is being hailed as the 'best outcome' for local growers in discussions with government for 20 years.
"I think it's exciting watching from the sidelines," he said.
"I'm very encouraged with what's happening. There's a little bit of work to do yet. I feel as though I put 10 years of my life into the battle and I felt that it was time I took a break from it and focused my career on other things.
"Two weeks ago we had the Federal Member for Wright putting it on the table; a request for $175 million in funding from the Federal Government for a proposal that has the potential of solving the Lockyer water crisis."
He knew how water could change a region.
"I've just been to Bundaberg and you add water to a community and you transform communities," he said.
"If we want to fix the issue of vacant shops in Gatton all we have to do is add water. It's purely an economic stimulus, not just to a small group of farmers, it's economic stimulus to a regional area."
He reflected on whether the problem would be solved if funding had been secured more than a decade ago.
"It's an interesting thought," he said.
"I know the pipeline would not have been built for a number of years. Between 2011 and 2015, we had quite good water supplies in the Lockyer so I actually thought maybe it's a good thing we didn't get it because we didn't need it.
"But all of a sudden we're back in a drought situation and the need for water is once again being highlighted. Our memories are very short when the rain starts."
Malcolm Turnbull, then Prime Minister, visited Gatton last year which included a meeting with farmers.
Mr Brimblecombe chose not to attend.