Article – WA's Kimberley earmarked for new farm development

29 November 2013
Tyne McConnon
ABC Rural

An aerial photo of salt marsh towards town of Derby in Western Australia

The Kimberley in far northern Western Australia has been earmarked for another significant agricultural development.

Plans for a new project proposal for Derby have been released by the WA Government.
The Department of Water will visit the Knowsley Agricultural area, which sits on the Mowanjum pastoral lease, to scope out the suitability and availability of ground water.
The proposed development is a joint initiative between three state government departments; regional development, water and agriculture.
Western Australia’s Minister for Water Terry Redman says the project is still in its early days.
“We believe it’s an area where the land opportunities come together with potential underground water.
“That may well prove to be suitable so that we can in the future have an agriculture project based around irrigation.”
Hydrogeologists from the department are visiting the site this week to start scoping out the area for development.
It’s expected this trip will result in a test bore being placed into the Erskine aquifer within the next year, says Minister Redman.
“A test bore will give us an idea of what is happening under the ground; of course going along with this is a lot of desktop work on other information that we already have.”
Mr Redman says there hasn’t been any commitment made by the government as yet.
“The financial side of it hasn’t been secured yet or hasn’t been authorised, what we are simply doing is scoping out the works.
“Simply looking at what needs to be done if we are going to go ahead with this first stage, this trial work and bore.”
Investigations into other water sources in the region, including the May and Fitzroy River catchments, will also be undertaken.
Mr Redman says the government has been and will continue to consult with the local Mowanjum people about the project.
“What is really important to us is that the local indigenous communities are going along with us on the project, they are talking to us about their issues.
“We are talking to the Kimberley Land Council about heritage clearances if they become issues as we progress.”
Concerns however have been raised over the environmental effects of the proposed development.
Environs Kimberley says it’s not only concerned about the land clearing but also the dangers of draining water from the main aquifer and the Fitzroy River.
Spokesman Martin Pritchard says he doesn’t believe there is sufficient ground water to supply a large agricultural project.
“Our understanding, from talking to some local people with knowledge about the water in that area, is that there’s not enough ground water for a large scale development.
“The question then becomes where does the rest of the water come from and there are only a few obvious places and that’s the Fitzroy or the Meeda River.”
Mr Pritchard says using water from the Fitzroy catchment will negatively impact upon the river’s ecology.
“Potentially if you are looking at dams you would be looking at some serious degradation.
“Fish won’t spawn in the way they usually spawn, lessened fish populations, less prawn populations, so yes we would be really concerned,” explains Mr Pritchard.
Courtesy of ABC Rural