Water scarcity drying up growth in wine tourism town

In Alcohol, Community, Featured Home Page News, Victoria

The Moonambel wine region in western victoria is finding itself in a tough position, ensuring there is enough drinking water for visitors.

“We’ve found ourselves, over the last number of years, spending up to $10,000 [a year] trucking in water for the restaurant, accommodation and winery,” business operator Mark Summerfield said.

Mr Summerfield said the lack of town water, along with poor internet and mobile connectivity and the absence of a sewerage system, meant it was “very, very hard” for the local economy to grow.

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from ABC News 31.3.22

Set among rolling hills in a region with a French-inspired name, Moonambel entices visitors with the prospect of tasting some of western Victoria’s fine drops.

But the business owners backing the town’s wine tourism credentials are working overtime to make sure guests have enough water to drink.

“We’ve found ourselves, over the last number of years, spending up to $10,000 [a year] trucking in water for the restaurant, accommodation and winery,” business operator Mark Summerfield said.

The main source of water in Moonambel is run-off into tanks, even though the area receives just under 600 millimetres of rain on average each year.

“The groundwater in Moonambel is pretty saline, so it’s not really appropriate for using on your houses and gardens,” Mr Summerfield said.

A dry argument

The Pyrenees Shire Council considers a potable water supply for Moonambel among its top priorities in a state and federal election year.

But convincing governments to invest has so far proven unsuccessful.

A 2019 business case for a 20 kilometres pipeline extension from Avoca conceded any decision to invest taxpayer money in water for the small population would be “predicated on meeting social objectives rather than strict economic criteria”.

The council-commissioned study estimated the capital cost would be $7.2 million, while the ongoing operating costs would likely need to be subsidised in part by other water users.

Mr Summerfield said the lack of town water, along with poor internet and mobile connectivity and the absence of a sewerage system, meant it was “very, very hard” for the local economy to grow.

Two large steel rainwater tanks on a rural property, blue skies, green trees, and a large dirt ground.
Businesses in Moonambel rely on rainwater tanks to collect supplies for drinking and washing.(Supplied)

Since 2001, employment in agriculture in Moonambel has been on the decline, while the food and accommodation sectors have grown.

Becoming a premier tourist destination though and capitalising on the flow of city dwellers moving to the regions, is a challenge.

Challenges not going away

The council has not given up on the project, and its chief executive Jim Nolan warned, “the most likely scenario is it will continue to cost more as time goes on”.

“The advice we received is whilst it’s a good project, it wasn’t necessarily a priority of the state,” he said.

Mr Summerfield said businesses were willing to contribute money to help make the project happen, but not everyone in Moonambel was interested in potable water.

Red Wine Barrels sculptures with an Avoca sign sit in the main street of a rural town.
The Pyrenees Shire Council has investigated the cost of extending a pipeline from Avoca.(ABC Ballarat: Sarah Jane Bell )

“There are people who have been in the country areas for a long time who have been fair and fine with the amount of water they’ve got, and they’re not using a lot,” he said.

“Some of those people will be seeing a situation where they think they’ll be paying a lot more money, and they don’t want to pay more money — I can understand that.”

The business case warned Moonambel could lose 24 full-time equivalent jobs if its overnight accommodation sector was hit by a “drinking water health scare”.

A spokeswoman for Central Highlands Water said it continued to work with the council to consider options for a reticulated water supply to the town.

“CHW will continue to investigate an appropriate solution that is fit for purpose for the needs of this community, and that keeps costs affordable for Central Highlands customers,” the water corporation said.

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