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Swan Valley Yukich wines
Swan Valley grape growers Philip Yukich and Kevin Peterson say table grape varieties like the Autumn Crisp have a longer growing season, requiring more water than others.

Grape growers gripe over water cuts

THE Swan Valley Grape Growers Association says a proposed 10 per cent cut to the industry’s water allowance would be devastating for the already struggling region.

The draft Gnangara Groundwater Allocation Plan, out for public comment until February 28, sets out how the Department of Water plans to manage Perth’s largest and most important water resource in a drying climate.

While the Swan Valley Grape Growers Association agrees overall reliance on the Gnangara mound needs to be reduced, an industry wide 10 per cent reduction for licensed users was not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“The water authority wants to take allocations off everybody across the board, it doesn’t matter if you’re using water for dust suppression for horses, for table grapes, or wine grapes,” Association president and Swan Valley table grape grower Kevin Peterson said.

“We’re saying, we (table grape growers) cannot afford to do without the allocation.”

The Gnangara groundwater system supplies almost half of all the water used across the metro area including water for Perth’s Integrated Water Supply Scheme and water taken by farmers, local governments, schools, industry, and households from their own bores.

Grape growers and other horticulturists are currently allowed to take 5000 kilolitres per ha – a figure based on 30 year old research.

Mr Peterson said more recent research showed particular varieties of table grapes, which produce a harvest later in the year therefore staying on the vine longer than others, needed up to 7000 kilolitres of water.

“If you take ten per cent off our allocation, instead of growing 10ha of quality table grapes you’d only be able to produce 90 per cent of it,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean that you can suddenly reduce your water allocation and grow your same crop.

“Maybe some other areas could do without it but without doing a full study across a number of different varieties that produce at different times, we’re not really getting a true figure of what the needs are.”

The groundwater allocation plan outlines how water licensing and other measures will maintain or increase groundwater levels to avoid further damage to water quality and environmental health.

To achieve this, the plan recommends reducing the annual groundwater abstraction rate by 54 gigalitres – or about 19 per cent in total annual abstraction – during the next decade.

The Growers Association doesn’t disagree with the objectives of the plan but wants a more comprehensive study.

“In some manner [reducing Perth’s reliance on the Gnangara mound] has to be done, but it’s the manner in which it’s done,” Mr Peterson said.

“We’re suggesting the State Government, with Federal Government help, needs to look further at Managed Aquifer Recharge programs, like desalination plants to increase water supply for the metro area.

“We’re saying a 10 per cent reduction for table grape growers isn’t a wise move in the overall scheme of the environment for the Perth region.”

The association is lobbying ahead of the Federal election for increased funding for Managed Aquifier Recharge programs.

“The Swan Valley region is, can I say, already falling to pieces,” he said.

“Back in 1992, we had about 4000ha of grapes being grown in the region, that was table grapes and wine, today we’re down to about 1000ha.

“Unless something is done regarding water usage, the viability of maintaining a vineyard is being diminished all the time.”

Other factors contributing to the decline include an aging population of growers and urbanisation.

By Claire Ottaviano

About The Editorial Team

Echo News gives readers an alternative to other media outlets in WA and enjoys a very high rate of readership in its distribution area. Our Echo News team are a small group of devoted individuals who work hard to give the local community an easy to read, yet intelligent mix of local community stories.

One comment

  1. Again the gov are missing the mark. How about you look at the multitude of mining companies in Perth who do not even have a metered supply and waste millions of litres of water without a second thought. Three days of non stop pressure washing to clean a mining truck is why we are running out of water. Not a small farmer growing precious food. And that’s before we start the debate about this country’s complete inaction to address climate change…😡

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