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Access to reliable, efficient irrigation water remains the key to securing agriculture’s contribution to economic growth in Gippsland, Clinton Rodda reflected as he steps down as Southern Rural Water Managing Director today (Friday 14 December).

“We know the impact water security has in attracting rural businesses to the region, and we’ve done the studies that show the MID provides $500million to the Victorian economy every year, and is a significant factor in Gippsland’s growth,” he said.

His legacy to the Gippsland region, in particular the Macalister Irrigation District, is in the modernisation program that is transforming the district from a 100-year-old labour-intensive system to a highly automated system with more efficient water delivery, improved flow and ordering and less nutrient run-off to the Gippsland Lakes.

Mr Rodda advised the SRW board he would not be seeking to renew his contract in 2019, as he wanted to seek new challenges.  “With modernisation nearly 60% of the way through, and solid plans for completing the remainder of the district, I felt it was time for SRW to benefit from some fresh eyes for the next chapter of its growth, and for me to have a fresh challenge,” he said.

Although the MID2030 strategy began before he started as MD in 2009, it gained momentum under his leadership as SRW successfully lobbied for funding from State and Federal Governments to underpin the upgrades. “This is about making the MID a modern, resilient, efficient and adaptive irrigation area.” The program’s success also depended on the support of the irrigators.  “We kept our promise to the MID farmers that we would deliver this $90million program, keep prices affordable and return water savings into the district,” he said.

Mr Rodda said the SRW team worked with State Government to deliver an innovative program of auctioning allocation (seasonal) water from water saved in modernisation, then auctioning permanent shares, the proceeds of which went into funding the modernisation program as irrigator contributions. The final part of the water savings program came in a permanent water share distribution to all MID farmers across the district last December. “Personally and professionally, I was delighted to be able to honour that commitment we made to farmers,” he said.

Macalister Customer Consultative Committee long-time member Graeme Anderson said that Mr Rodda would be greatly missed: “Clinton has been a brilliant leader, the best we’ve had at SRW. The way that he has been able to work with irrigators, the customer committees and Government to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve has been fantastic. We wish him well, and hope that the board appoints an MD with similar drive, because we still have a way to go.”

Mr Rodda said he was also proud of the progress SRW has made in supporting diversity in the workplace. SRW currently holds a coveted Australian Workplace Equality Index bronze status – one of only a handful of small organisations to achieve this level. “We’ve moved from 20% women at SRW to 30%, and just a few years ago from 0% women in the executive team to 38%,” he said.

He has been instrumental in the development of the Gippsland Environmental Agencies group, which brings together 14 agencies and groups across Gippsland. “Earlier this year, I was proud to co-sign the GEA unique multi-agency agreement with the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation, which has plans for several initiatives with mutual benefits,” he said.

One major event remains etched on his mind: the one-in-100 year flood of June 2007, which inundated Tinamba, Newry and parts of Maffra and Sale, when the gauging stations upstream of Lake Glenmaggie had been knocked out by the heavy flows upstream.

Mr Rodda wasn’t yet the MD, but was Manager of Water Supply and also coordinated the SRW incident response. ‘It was the ‘perfect storm’ of conditions, the catchment had been burnt out in the fires earlier that year, and we’d had good rainfall a fortnight before, which soaked the catchment and half-filled Glenmaggie. Then came up to 300mm of rainfall – with unprecedented inflows, enough to fill the dam again within 24hours. Up to 150,000ML per day was coming in at the peak, which we couldn’t measure until it got to the dam. There was only one way the water could go once it reached the top of the wall,” he said.

The resulting flood also washed away part of the hydro power station at the gates (which has since been rebuilt), and caused nearly $5million damage to Southern Rural Water’s assets. “Immediately afterwards, there was concern about whether we could have held back or managed the floods. But, unfortunately we had no other choice, and I needed to explain to all who’d been affected – many of whom were not even our customers. It was a very challenging time,” he said.

One aspect of the job Mr Rodda won’t miss is the travelling: with responsibility for rural and groundwater across 88,000 km2 or 37% of Victoria from the South Australian border to the NSW border, it has meant being on the road a lot to stay connected to staff, stakeholders and communities across the regions.

Mr Rodda said he was looking for his next role, but in the meantime was looking forward to spending the holidays with his family, including a trip to Cambodia.