Following the irrigation price path announced in 2012, irrigators raised concerns about the long term sustainability of SunWater’s eight channel irrigation schemes. In response to these concerns the Government committed to investigating the possibility of the schemes transitioning to local management arrangements (LMA).
In June 2014, interim boards established for each scheme submitted business proposals to the government to transfer ownership and operation of the infrastructure to scheme customers. In September 2015 the government decided that local management in Emerald, Eton, St George and Theodore, where both financial viability and strong customer commitment to local ownership had been demonstrated, should proceed (Transition schemes). It further decided Bundaberg, the Burdekin-Haughton, Mareeba-Dimbulah and the Lower Mary should continue to investigate the potential for transition to local management (Investigation schemes).
Separate companies for each of the four Transition schemes have been established, with the purpose of negotiating with government on the terms of transition to local management. These companies were currently owned by government, with the company boards representing the interest of local irrigators. These companies were transferred to customer-ownership if LMA proceeded.
In October 2016, the government provided a formal response to the schemes 2014 business proposals. Transitioning schemes were made a formal offer that identified a proposed separation payment to ensure the financial viability of the schemes, the assets to be transferred and key terms for any final transfer. Investigation schemes received feedback on their business proposal and description of the changes that will be required for the scheme to be considered for a move to local management.
As a result of investigations during 2017, Bundaberg and Lower Mary boards withdrew from the LMA process, while Burdekin-Haughton and Mareeba-Dimbulah submitted revised business proposals to government.
A majority of irrigators in Eton, Emerald, St George and Theodore voted to accept an offer from government and the scheme assets were transferred to irrigator-owned companies, with the last transfer to be finalised in March 2020.