To build or not to build(sorry Mr Shakespeare)
Western Australia is facing the same issue it faced in the 1890’s that is water supply holding back expansion of the state. In the 1890’s it was the discovery of gold being affected. WA had two people up to the task at hand, an engineer(CY O’Connor) with the gumption to say it can be done, the other was a politician(Sir John Forrest) with the balls to fund it even though it came close to sending WA bankrupt. The pressure resulted in the engineer taking his own life, the politician went onto bigger things but both are recognised/revered for what they achieved.
So whats happening now, the South west of WA had its dryest year on record, its warmest summer, its hottest March, more sunshine then previously recorded if it wasnt for 0.4mm of rain it’d have also recorded it longest period without rain. Our dams are dry, are rivers are drying up the Gnangara mound has fallen so low that the caves at Yanchep need to have water pumped into them to protect them. While looking at the Gnangara mound if we stop drawing water from it today it’ll take 50 years to recover to the point it was at 20 years ago.
Here WA sits having ridden a mining boom that saw amazing growth in the population and the size of Perth and many centres in the south-west, the only thing that stopped water being a major problem sooner was that WA had access to the water resources to cope with this expansion, even if it cause serious damage to the environment. We can’t sustain this growth through another mining boom. WA doesn’t have the ability to absorb the predicted population growth that’s needed to feed this new boom, it doesn’t have the people and it doesn’t have the water. Theres work being done to address the population issue, even if it’s not all that popular but for every person needed to fill a job theres two-three other people we need to cater for.
Theres are no more rivers to Dam, we can build more desalination plants, like wise we could tap the Yarragadee aquifer but do really want to go down the pathway of the Gnangara mound. There an alternative option its been thrown around in some form for the last twenty odd years, that bringing water down from the Kimberley where the Ord river discharges sufficient fresh water into the Ocean that it could refill Sydney harbour twice over, the Fitzroy river has a similar flow each year as well, both have dams in place though the Ord river dam is significantly bigger. To get the water to the SW there’s been two options put forward one is pipeline the other a canal, I prefer the pipeline because it has a smaller footprint on the environment that a canal and has less water loss to evaporation.
What holding WA back now isn’t the engineering, it isn’t the impact on the environment, it isn’t opposition by the wider community, it because some bean counter has said to get the water here either by pipe or canal will cost 5x as much as desalination or tapping the Yarragadee. Desalination is a high energy user that means a carbon foot print, Yarragadee is an environmental risk and has a limited life span before it too runs dry and becomes the environmental disaster that is Gnangara mound.
A pipeline taps a resources that renewed almost every year from a tropical rainfall pattern that’s exactly opposite to the SW rainfall pattern. You bring the water to the SW and pump it into the dams keeping them at around 60-75% of capacity that gives a buffer for both regions if ones has significantly dryer or wetter than average season. We’d see from this greater frequency in water overflow of these SW dam which will renew and flush the river systems, since three of the largest dams flow into the Peel inlet and Harvey estuary these systems will have environmental benefits as well. We could stop tapping the Gnangara mound for drinking water and let that regenerate, it may even possible to assist that regeneration by providing water to the few remain lakes. All a long what ever route is taken WA could expand, industries could be developed, and agriculture prosper this would also encourage greater population growth outside of Perth-Mandurah-Bunbury region and alleviate some more pressure on our environment. Just imagine as agriculture industry that isn’t subject to the season issues of floods, cyclones that our current major growing areas are all to frequently destroy by think of how being in the middle of Australia will make it easier to access every market. If we had such an industry think of the water that could be returned to the Murray-Darling system from the current irrigation industries, it’d revitalise not just WA but all of Australia.
You what we elect governments to protect us and our future to enable future generations to enjoy what we have and build on the benefits we’ve created. These government collect taxes to do this and we expect them to be conservative when spending those taxes but we aren’t shareholders looking for profits we are people looking to build a secure future. That means we recognise that governments must spend and sometime that money isn’t going to have commercial returns the problem is that many departments are expected to act solely as commercial entities, even the WA police force has specific revenue raising based actions that take precedence over public safety and law enforcement that such actions are purported to be for. How can a government agency be expect to act in the interest of the people of WA when its called Water Corp and primarily focused on making a profit(earning more money than it spends).
The dilemma we now face is that Water Corp has become profit orientated its lost its social purpose and that is to ensure that all Western Australian have access to a permanent reliable supply of water. Yes a pipeline will be expensive be, yes it will have high capital costs but it’s not about costs it’s about Western Australia’s development into the future, it’s about ensuring that what we enjoy now, a safe clean reliable water supply will be available for future generations. That means that building costs should not be a factored into the supply costs, and they should never be included in the final cost of delivery because Western Australian will have already paid for the building of that pipeline, only the ongoing operating costs needs to be considered. Like the goldfields water scheme of a hundred years ago there will be many benefits that will be delivered to WA in future it’s just that these benefits wont be in a form that the Water Corp can gather money from, that s why it must be built by the State for the State. The Federal government should also share in those costs because the benefits for Australians(yeah Western Australians are also Australians) are clearly tangible and significant.
All we need now is an engineer with the gumption to build it and the politician with balls to fund it.