$6M SURPRISE: Fast funds allow Emu Swamp Dam to begin
A GROUND-BREAKING government decision will provide a $6 million funding advance to the Emu Swamp Dam irrigation project, allowing construction to begin this year.
It is a momentous announcement for the Granite Belt community, many of whom have fought for the dam and its water security for more than 20 years.
Director of Granite Belt Water Lloyd Taylor said the development would provide certainty to a region plagued by hardship.
"The severity of drought brought sharply into focus the type of infrastructure the government should be investing in," Mr Taylor said.
"That assurance will allow the biggest agricultural employers to accurately predict how much they can plant on an annual basis.
"That means they can employ more local people and in turn, spend more money in town."
The drought robbed the region of more than 900 jobs during the failed summer season, according to data from the Granite Belt Growers Association.
"Growers who needed water had to purchase it and truck it in," Mr Taylor said.
"It meant a lot of people weren't able to plant this year."
The 10,500ML dam is predicted to provide irrigation to 51 growers and create an additional 700 jobs.
In normal circumstances, the growers would be required to front the initial investment, but given the economic impact of drought that financial burden has been waived.
"We have been working towards this for some time," Mr Taylor said.
Minister for Natural Resources Dr Anthony Lynham said his government recognised how important it was to accelerate the construction process.
"They've gone through one of the most severe droughts on record, they've been doing it tough," Dr Lynham said.
"The state recognised the challenges they faced and that's why that $6 million has been given up front.
"To my knowledge the government hasn't done that before, but serious money was needed to get this project moving."
The financial assistance will enable Granite Belt Water to develop tender documents for design and construction and fund contracts with irrigators.
If everything goes to plan, Mr Taylor estimates the $84 million dam is just nine months away from beginning construction.
The dam, located by the Severn River on 200 hectares of bushland scrub near Glen Aplin, is expected to take approximately two years to build and employ an additional 250 people during the construction process.
"We will use as many local resources and procure as many local workers as we can," Mr Taylor said.
"There is no reason for people not to return to the Granite Belt now.
"We can have confidence in our future as a result of this project."