THE state government needs to get serious about expanding irrigation in central Gippsland, according to Gippsland South MLA Danny O'Brien.
Mr O'Brien was commenting after receiving a response from the Water Minister Lisa Neville to questions he raised in parliament about the opportunities for expanded irrigation along the Latrobe River and in the Macalister Irrigation District.
"I went to state parliament and called on the minister to provide surplus water from Blue Rock Lake and the Latrobe River system to irrigation to help create jobs and sustainable economic activity in the Latrobe Valley and central Gippsland areas," Mr O'Brien said.
"The minister has responded that the government is 'exploring options' to provide more water to irrigators, which is positive, but doesn't address the key question.
"It's good that the minister is looking at how to provide more water to irrigators, but there are some straightforward options that the minister has failed to directly address.
"I've indicated to the parliament that there is significant water sitting in Blue Rock Lake that is allocated to the power industry but currently not used, and could be reallocated to farmers in our region."
In her response, Ms Neville said because water in the Latrobe system was allocated under entitlements, to supply additional water for irrigation, water must be bought from other entitlement holders through temporary or permanent trade.
"The Latrobe irrigators also have access to additional water from the Latrobe Reserve," Ms Neville said.
"The reserve was created in 2013 to provide additional temporary (not permanent) water for purchase by bulk water entitlement holders and section 51 licence holders in the regulated Latrobe system, with a portion of available water ring-fenced for section 51 licence holders.
"The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will continue to work with Southern Rural Water and the broader Gippsland community to explore opportunities for future irrigation and agricultural developments.
"Any potential irrigation developments are best considered within the fuller context of the Latrobe Valley, where water used for power generation, urban customers, and the environment, as well as considering Aboriginal and recreational values and uses," Ms Neville said.
Mr O'Brien said that the minister's response went on to highlight a number of reviews, including the rehabilitation of the Morwell open cut coal mine and the current Central and Gippsland Region Sustainable Water Strategy.
"These are all challenges that are facing us, but we actually need the government to take a positive approach to driving development and jobs in central Gippsland," he said.
"I'm very concerned that a full pit lake is the only option being proposed for the Morwell mine rehabilitation, and this threatens other potential water users on the Latrobe.
"While I'm glad the government says it's interested in expanding irrigation, it needs to actually put some positive decisions behind that and reallocate unused water for purchase by our famers.
"Developing irrigation further, particularly highvalue irrigation, will help create jobs and ease the industry transition in our local area."