When I came to Perth in 1965 the population was around 500000, we averaged 870mm of rain a year, the local dams regularly overflowed in winter and early spring, we had a quota of water that was free, before we started paying for any excess, and gardens were green. I’m sure there are many who can remember those wonderful days. The government planned for, and built in 1974, the South Dandalup dam, to add to Perth’s water supplies as the population grew, but that was the last significant addition to surface water storage for the metropolitan area. As that dam was being built we had the first indications of declining rainfall, though they wouldn’t have been recognised as such at the time. Widespread land clearing in the Central West, begun in the early 1970s to allow for expansion of the wheat growing capacity of the region, was removing triggers for winter rainfall. Temperatures were beginning to rise, winter rainfall dropped off across the whole of the south-west of WA, and the population of Perth continued to grow at a rapid rate, reaching 1.8 million by 2012. That’s more than three times the number of people who were resident in Perth in 1965 with less water stored in the dams because of the reduced rainfall. More water was extracted from the Gnangara Mound, north of Perth, desalination plants were built to take ocean water and make it potable, and still we struggle with the demand for water. A lack of foresight on the government’s behalf meant that more stress was created for underground aquifers, and the Yarragadee aquifer in the south-west of the state was targeted. Unfortunately, reduced rainfall also affected that aquifer, and wildlife dependent on the rivers across the south-west has been under pressure. Time and again short-term solutions have been suggested, and not necessarily acted on. An aboriginal leader, long-term elected member of the WA parliament for the Kimberley, and first indigenous cabinet minster, suggested, in the 1980s, a pipeline from the Kimberley to Perth, drawing excess flow from tropical rainfalls in the wet season, being the southern summer. The estimated cost of that project at the time was $3 billion. Various authorities have suggested that such a pipeline would be far too expensive, and the water would arrive in Perth contaminated because of the time in the pipeline. The commonly thought reason for opposition at the time was that Mr Bridge was not a white man, and therefore didn’t know what he was suggesting. Since then there have been many comments pointing to an understanding of the project as getting water from the Kimberley to Perth, whereas that pipeline, which would cost little more than the gas pipeline from Dampier to the south-west of the state cost and which has proved invaluable, could supply towns and regions along the way, providing extra water to generate more jobs and turn some areas back to the green they used to be. Topping up water resources in the south-west of WA from the excess flow out of Lake Argyle could, in most years, result in Perth’s dams being completely filled, allowing more water for the increasing population and the chance to re-green Perth. That would reduce the heat island effect caused by more and more paving and roads, and smaller areas of green around homes, and would, in turn, bring about an increase in rainfall.
We cannot keep drawing water from the aquifers around Perth, or building desalination plants using diesel fuel and pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The desalination plants we have must be converted to use solar power to minimise environmental damage, and, with improvements in solar technology power from the sun would provide all the energy needs to move water from the Kimberley to the south-west of WA, and to keep it useable.
I will push strongly for:
● construction of a pipeline from the Ord and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, through the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Central West to the south-west of the state, to provide a long-term solution to the drying climate around Perth and the increasing population, and to provide an additional, and more reliable, source of water for other areas along the pipe;
● easing of water restrictions, when supplies finally arrive from the Kimberley, to encourage intelligent use of the water resource to increase areas of green and reduce exposed paved areas;
● use of recycled water for public lawns, ovals and gardens, gradually making the resource available to the general public for the same purpose through a separate pipeline network.
Authorised by Steven Secker, 4 Dower Court, Armadale.