«WATER SERVICES INQUIRY TRANSCRIPT OF EVIDENCE TAKEN AT BUNBURY THURSDAY, 29 JULY 2004 SESSION 2 Members Hon Barry House (Convenor) Hon John Fischer ...»
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE
WATER SERVICES INQUIRY
TRANSCRIPT OF EVIDENCE TAKEN
THURSDAY, 29 JULY 2004
Hon Barry House (Convenor)
Hon John Fischer
Hon Dee Margetts
Hon Norman Moore (Participating Member) Hon Ken Travers Public Administration and Finance Subcommittee Session 2 - Thursday, 29 July 2004 Page 1 [10.45 am]
CALDER, MR GEOFFGeneral Manager, Harvey Water, PO Box 456,
Hon BARRY HOUSE: On behalf of the subcommittee, I would like to welcome you to the meeting. You will have signed a document entitled “Information for Witnesses”. Have you read and understood that document?
Mr Calder: Yes, I have.
Hon BARRY HOUSE: These proceedings are being recorded by Hansard. A transcript of your evidence will be provided to you. To assist the subcommittee and Hansard, please quote the full title of any document you refer to during the course of this hearing for the record and please speak into the microphones. I remind you that the transcript will become a matter for the public record. If for some reason you wish to make a confidential statement during today’s proceedings, you should request that the evidence be taken in closed session. If the committee grants your request, any public and media in attendance will be excluded from the hearing. Please note that until such time as the transcript of your public evidence is finalised, it should not be made public. I advise you that premature publication or disclosure of public evidence may constitute a contempt of Parliament and may mean that the material published or disclosed is not subject to parliamentary privilege. Would you like to make an opening statement to the subcommittee?
Mr Calder: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am speaking on behalf of the 558 shareholders of the Harvey Water Cooperative, which is responsible for providing water services to the irrigation area that we control. Our statements today will specifically relate to a proposal that we have put to government regarding a means by which water can be best used in the State, particularly in the integrated water supply system and the irrigation system itself.
The issue that we are talking about is using the water from the south west, specifically the water that we have access to, in our irrigation area. It rests in two parts. The first is Wellington Dam and the issues there. Secondly, I will move on to the exact proposal that we have put to government and how that could work to provide better water use in the State. Salinity is a major problem for irrigators. In this slide of the PowerPoint demonstration, the little red dot on the bottom line of the graph represents the point at which the dams were basically constructed. The vertical blue lines represent the salinity that irrigators receive from the dams. The red line that runs through the middle represents the late 1960s and you can see that, for irrigators, there has been a huge increase in salinity in water coming from the dam. The red line represents two things: one is that it is about 500 parts per million, or about 100 millisiemens per metre and represents a point at which irrigation water is supplied to pastures in which subclovers will start to die. You can see that dairy farmers who are irrigating their pastures are faced with a very difficult situation; their cost of production will increase if they use that water. It is much higher than they can use effectively, so they are faced with a very difficult situation. The last eight lines on the right-hand side of the graph represent when we took over and you can see that there is a climbing trend in salinity. We are under great pressure from our irrigators to do something about it and have somebody else do something about it, because we have no authority or responsibility even in the catchment, which is where the problem comes from. The second point is that the red line represents approximately the standard for potability, which is about 500 parts per million. We are a long way from that in the Wellington Dam currently.
Public Administration and Finance Subcommittee Session 2 - Thursday, 29 July 2004 Page 2 The blue lines on this slide represent the capacity of the dams from which we take our water. From the left the graph refers to the Waroona, Samson, Logue Brook, Harvey, Stirling and Wellington Dams. Compared with Wellington Dam, the other irrigation dams are basically puddles, but there is a large quantity of water in Wellington Dam. The issue is the red line, which represents the salinity in the dam. You can see that, again, obviously the water quality in the Wellington Dam is way beyond anything else and is a major problem. The little red line on the right-hand side of the graph is from the Murray-Darling basin from a town called Morgan in South Australia, where they take the water from for the Adelaide water supply. You will be aware that enormous amounts of funding have been given to the Murray-Darling basin because of the problems with the salinity of the water, the quality of the water and the environmental problems it has. The base data that that comes from indicates that the salinity has not changed since the Second World War. It has gone up and come down a bit, but it has been that saline for a very long time. When that is compared with the water quality in Wellington Dam, we see that Wellington Dam is about three times as high, yet we have received negligible funding for it. Did anyone do anything about the water quality in the Wellington Dam? We think that is unfair. We have raised that with anybody who will listen, including the federal departments and so forth. It is quite surprising to people, because they think that the Murray-Darling is very saline. It is not in comparison with what we are dealing with at Wellington Dam. The problem at Wellington Dam is not only an agricultural problem that poor old irrigators have. It has an environmental dimension to it. This is a slide of an electromagnetic 38 survey of the irrigation area from which we supply water from Wellington Dam into the Collie River district. EM38 measures the salinity in the top approximately metre of the soil, which is the topsoil where plants are grown. Obviously the blue bits are the areas with the lowest salinity and the red bits are the areas with the highest salinity. The red bit at the top of the diagram is the Benger swamp and at the bottom left-hand corner are some other red bits that are Bungham clay, the heavy soils at the west end of the irrigation area. The rest of it has a speckled-type appearance.
They are actually little squares. They are the irrigation paddocks. Through the water that is put on that area, irrigators typically put on 10 11, 12 or 14 tonnes of salt a hectare a year. You can see the building up of salinity in the soil, which is ruining the capacity of the soil to produce. They are destroying the soil with the water they are putting on their properties. The point we make all the time is that irrigators are not responsible for this; they have not caused this problem. It has been caused by clearing in the catchment. However, they are the ones who have suffered and who continue to suffer without any kind of state or federal support or help to get over this problem. It is unfair to say that about the State; some work has been done by the State. Further to that, the run-off water that now comes from this part of the irrigation area contains salinity that is higher than is recommended for receival into freshwater bodies. Again, there is an aspect of an environmental issue here, rather than just a simple agricultural problem.
There is a proposed solution. This slide is a bit of a tricky mud map. On the left of the map is Wellington Dam. Up in the hills, of course, is Harris Dam. The white line represents the Coalfields Highway, running through Collie and out to Darkan. The green lines represent the major rivers that flow into Wellington Dam. On the far right of the map is the east branch of the Collie River.
About 10 per cent of the flow comes into the dam on average each year, but it contains about 40 per cent of the salt, so there is a disproportionate situation there; that is, a high level of salt in a small volume of water. That river passes coalmining voids just outside of Collie. I will focus on those coalmining voids in the situation there. The east branch of the Collie River goes past there. The proposal is to build some kind of barrage or a pumping facility - some kind of diversion - by which the saline flows can be diverted as they come down. With the first heavy rainfall, a pulse of high salt water comes down the creek. The idea is to try to grab that water and stick it into those voids before it can go any further down the creek. There are subsidiary pulses throughout the year, but the main salt pulse comes after the first main rainfall events. The idea is to divert that saltier water into those voids. We are talking about maybe three or five gigalitres of water a year. About 200 gigalitres of space is available in the Muja pit. It would be quite a number of years before those Public Administration and Finance Subcommittee Session 2 - Thursday, 29 July 2004 Page 3 voids were filled. It does not represent a problem from that perspective. We also believe that once we have water like that, it becomes a resource. There are a couple of issues. Wesfarmers, for example, is already using a filled void and it is running an aquaculture project next door to it, which uses the water and recycles it through. Both Wesfarmers and Griffin Coal, which is looking for a base-load power station in that vicinity, have said that they would desalinate that water and use it in their plant or perhaps return it to the system. We are saying also that it becomes a resource for the community and for the State as well. It could be used for recreation as well, if we are talking about the Wellington Dam recreational area being removed and a source protection zone applied. That is the simple proposal. This slide is a photo of a disused railway embankment where the water might be held back in a low barrage rather than in a dam of some kind.
One of the benefits of the voids proposal is that the modelling suggests that the salinity level can be reduced quite quickly, maybe to 700 milligrams a litre. That is yet to be tested, and, hopefully, it will be tested next year. It is not expensive. All that needs to be done is to build a pumping station and a pipeline - it does not have to be pumped up; it just needs to be pumped along - and a small diversion of some kind. There are some operating costs, but, again, if it is held back and time is taken with the pumping, rather than trying to pump it as it goes past, the operating costs would be quite low.
We are seeking funds from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. That is a long and tortuous process. Hopefully it is getting close to resolution at this stage. We are not aware of any difficulties with it, except those people who are sulking. It seems to be pretty much on the way.
Hopefully, we are operating on the time line so that we can have some pumping and diversion happening before next winter to test the theory. We believe everybody will win from it, because if the water quality is better, it must be an advantage. Mines must be rehabilitated and to fill them with water is a clear option. They are filling with water from rainfall anyway. The modelling that we have been exposed to suggests that the salinity will not be any worse. If they are filled quickly, it would be a lot better for the acidity. If they are filled slowly, a hyper-acidic situation will result;
if they are filled rapidly, that does not occur. We believe that at this stage it is a worthwhile proposal to continue and experiment with.
I will now move on to our proposal. An issue that we need to make clear to begin with is that our licences are divided into two parts. There is an irrigator’s entitlement, which is specified in the licence. Losses are also specified, and they include losses that occur between the dam and the farm because of the open-channel nature of our system. We lost more than 30 per cent when we first took over through seepage and leakage, channel fill flows out the back and a small amount of evaporation. That is unavoidable. That is common to all open-channel systems. Most of the world’s systems are open channel in nature. What we are working with here is not the irrigators’ water, which is the red area on this slide. We are working with the blue area. This is water that irrigators never would have had and never will get while we have an open-channel system.
However, if we can bring those losses down, we are told that the way the system works means that that would then be available for transfer to somebody else. If we do the investment in saving, we can then get some benefit from it, and that is what we are proposing.
[11.00 am] This is very important to irrigators. We are not trading irrigators’ water; we are trading losses.
People also ask why we do not just save the water and return it to irrigators. The cost of laying pipes to transfer it to the irrigators is too expensive for them to pay for. They could not afford to buy at the prices we are paying now. Another claim is that this is just a way to make farmers better off. In fact, it is not. All it will do is bring a pipeline to the border of their property. If they want to take advantage of that pipeline and use the water then under pressure, that will create costs for them on their property. They must pay to put in a trickle irrigation system or a centre pivot or any other kind of irrigation system. It is exactly the same as an urban block. Water comes to the edge of an Public Administration and Finance Subcommittee Session 2 - Thursday, 29 July 2004 Page 4 urban block and if a person wants to develop that, it is at that person’s cost. There is no difference in that kind of benefit.