Steve Marshall, pictured, from Peninsula Avocados remembers what it was like two years ago when Mornington Peninsula dams were as dry as a bone and the earth cracked beneath land-loving boots.
Lack of reliable rain and a motherlode of fuel across the Peninsula brings our farmers and vignerons to their metaphorical soil-caked knees. What happens to these businesses when there is a fire? How do our growers get water to irrigate crops when it just doesn’t rain? How do you attract new farmers to high-value horticulture on the best soils in the country?
Steve explains: “I have the ability to expand my business because I have the land, but I don’t have the water – and we all saw what the fire season looked like at the beginning of the year. These are a couple of the reasons why securing the feasibility study for the Hinterland Environmental Water Scheme is so important. The certainty that something like this scheme brings for farming and fire prevention is unprecedented. HEWS began with just two blokes and an idea four years ago. Russell Joseph and I got together with Shire representatives and other interested parties to discuss what something like this might look like. Since then, we have established an incorporated association and are just two steps away from completion (funding and construction).”
Hinterland Environmental Water Scheme Inc spokesman Russell Joseph adds: “The economic sustainability and growth of the Peninsula’s hinterland is limited by water availability. We currently have farmers and firefighters relying on ground water, farm dams or carting water to a few water tanks.”
Melbourne Water’s Eastern Treatment Plant at Bangholme currently discharges about 350 million litres of recycled water a day along the length of the Peninsula via a large pipeline called the South Eastern Outfall. This pours into Bass Strait at Boags Rocks near Gunnamatta. The commencement of a feasibility study that looks at allowing hinterland landowners access to this high-quality water and the economic and environmental benefits it would bring means the Peninsula is on the sustainable future-forward move.
Flinders federal Liberal MP Greg Hunt has secured $300,000 in Commonwealth funding for the study, and this has been matched with co-contributions from Mornington Peninsula Shire, South East Water and the not-for-profit group Hinterland Environmental Water Scheme Inc.
Access to this new water source would increase resilience to climate change and enhance food production at the same time. Steve continues: “The basic design initially developed by me and now being tested by South East Water engineers looks basically like this: we pump the water to a high point near Arthurs Seat which then flows down by gravity via a network of pipelines along ridge-line roads to the eastern side of the Peninsula. We have also been investigating placing fire hydrants along each pipelined roadway, which would give fast access to water for firefighting.”
The launch of the feasibility study is undoubtedly exciting news at a time of great fiscal uncertainty. Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor Sam Hearn says the beauty of this scheme is it’s using water that would otherwise be flushed out to sea. “This is a critically important project not just for the Peninsula but for the future of Victoria,” Cr Hearn says.
Steve, whose family has had a property on the Peninsula for 50 years and who has himself been delivering horticultural services for more than 25 years, sees it as a game-changer too. “This is a true response to the effects of climate change for the Peninsula. We refer to the scheme as being climate-adaptive.”
Bring it on.