East Coast- water lessons

Updated: Nov 10, 2018

Friday I headed to the east coast. I had a morning interview with a local council member, who had farmed grapevines in the area in the past, and sat on the board for the local irrigation scheme. She and her husband had been in the area 30 years, with a two year stint in Burma recently. The east coast is very dry. It is in a rain shadow, and typically dry, but the past three years have been in serious drought. After the baby lamb was fed, the sheepdog was pet, and cups of Burmese tea were consumed, she took me out to see some local water issues in the landscape. The east coast has a small footprint of vineyards, but it is growing significantly, particularly with Brown Brothers (a mainland company in Victoria) purchasing and expanding their vineyard at Devil's Corner. The farmers here historically took water from streams and rivers, and as sources have been insecure from drought, they got together to ask for Tas Irrigation to develop a scheme they could invest in in their region. The farmers have paid the upfront costs for the scheme infrastructure to be built, but there has not been rain to fill up the dams, so only a couple of farms (not vineyards) have been able to take some of the water allotment. I could go on and on, but I'll save it for my dissertation! Below I've shared images of a farmer (vineyard, crop and sheep) going against the regulations and pumping directly out of the Swan River; we check out the low flow on the river (also drinking water supply for the town); dying walnut orchard from lack of water; Devil's Corner for lunch (yum!). You'll notice wind breaks planted between the vines- high winds here. I have interviewed the viticulturist and winemaker at this site. They have yet to be able to fill the large dam on their property that is supposed to last for 2 years of water needs. They have an emergency permit to take from a nearby river, but it runs dry every summer. Neighbors are concerned by the vineyard's pumping of this water. I stopped at another small, but expanding vineyard. The couple who own it were super warm and welcoming, and talked with me in the tasting room extensively about water issues in the region. They shared a text from state authorities to restrict water use, but explained the impossibility of monitoring use, because there are no meters in the region. The photo of the green box is part of the irrigation scheme infrastructure, which will allow for metering once it comes on line, for people who have signed up for the scheme. If it comes on line. The vineyards in this region irrigate mostly through drip, but also have overhead sprinklers because they have serious issues with frost in the spring here. There are images of a large vineyard development where the metal posts have been installed, but the vineyard will not be planted until there is water to do so. I finished up the day with a quick walk to the beach. The water is a beautiful turquoise. You could see big rainstorms over the ocean, but unfortunately not many raindrops on land. I did manage to snag a bottle of rose while there. I'll return to the region next week to attend the local Council's natural resource management meeting.