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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 126

Senator GREIG (8:58 PM) —I rise to talk about an issue which greatly affects every Western Australian, particularly urban Western Australians, and that is water—or, more to the point, the lack of it. I realise that Western Australia is not alone in its lack of an abundant fresh water supply, but following the recent state election the issue of water and of topping up our water reserves has been rightfully thrust to the forefront of public debate and political manoeuvrings.

No doubt everyone has now heard about the canal proposal put forward by the immediate past state opposition leader, Colin Barnett, and supported by the federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, which would have seen water sent from the Kimberley to the Perth metropolitan region via a synthetic canal with a membrane cover to stop evaporation. It was to have been fenced on both sides to stop animals—both wildlife and human beings—falling into the waterway and was to have had surveillance cameras placed right along its 3,700 kilometre strip to monitor pilfering and/or damage. Critics raised the likelihood that the water would be nothing more than warm green slime by the time it reached the end of its journey, while supporters hailed it as a very likely solution to a problem which is only going to increase as the years go by. Despite the many pros and cons, no doubt everyone has also heard of what happened to that idea. The opposition coalition in Western Australia was relegated to opposition for another term, and the canal has been blamed for the opposition’s poor result.

That said, the issue of water—the most efficient use of our existing water resources and a fresh supply for Western Australian consumption—is still to be properly and adequately addressed. The state Labor government has undertaken to build a desalination plant, powered by renewable energy, to treat sea water from the Cockburn Sound, south of Perth. This initiative will add to the dams and reservoirs upon which we in Western Australia currently rely. I wish them well with this project, despite my concerns about the amount of energy required to power such a plant and the criticism it has received from experts that it will still not adequately address our urgent needs for more fresh, clean water both now and into the future.

Western Australia also relies heavily on our underground water reserves. These reserves, particularly those near and in the metropolitan area, are being closely monitored by hydrologists and other water resource experts, many of whom are concerned that these reserves are also under serious threat from overuse and, as a result, of becoming extremely salty. Western Australian hydrologist Dr David Reynolds, from the Centre for Water Research at the University of Western Australia, was quoted in the West Australian newspaper on 4 March this year as saying:

... it was extraordinary how little is known about the interconnection of Perth Aquifers, given that Perth city is the most ground-water-dependent city in Australia.”

In Perth today, there are some 140,000 domestic garden bores, unlicensed and unmetered. This has in many cases resulted in the widespread misuse of water, allowing bore owners to completely sidestep the water restrictions imposed on households which depend on scheme water. Conservationists are concerned that the increased use of bore water by residents is turning bores salty. Mr Reynolds said:

... while he thought it unlikely that Perth’s deepest aquifer, the Yarragadee, from which most drinking water is drawn, would have the same salt problem as that affecting bores drawing from the uppermost Superficial aquifer, he warned that the salt problem would increase.

That was quoted in the West Australian of 2 March this year.

The Western Australian President of the Institute of Landscape Architects, Mr Stuart Pullyblank, is also on record as saying:

State and local governments need to tighten restrictions on bore water use, use recycled effluent for irrigation instead of bore water and lead by example in replacing lawns with native species.

Mr Pullyblank has joined the Western Australian Conservation Council in calling for meters to be installed on all bores at owners’ own cost and for the same restrictions to be imposed on bore water use as on scheme water. I wholeheartedly agree with these recommendations. Unfortunately, these initiatives have been rejected by the current state environment minister, Judy Edwards, who has said that she would not support payment for domestic bore water because the government wants to encourage people to use alternatives to scheme water. I would argue that this is totally missing the point of water conservation. It matters not whether someone is wasting bore water or scheme water—at the end of the day, it is still a waste of water, and a waste we simply cannot afford.

Driving around the suburbs of Perth on any given day, it is easy to see this blatant waste of bore water. The telltale brown stain on fences and walls shows clearly where the bores are and it is usually these households which have reticulation on day after day, regardless of the weather, regardless of the time of day and regardless of whether the sprinklers are watering the gardens, the lawns or the roadways. These householders seem content in the knowledge that they are not drawing on scheme water—and therefore not being billed for it either—but using their own supply. This is wrong.

Western Australia is experiencing an unprecedented draw on bore water, which is reportedly resulting in very high salt levels. According to media reports, the City of Nedlands last year closed its Swanbourne bore after water from it measured at 4,000 parts per million. That is as salty as sea water. Cottesloe and Mosman Park councils have also closed several bores in recent years after they became too salty. Trinity College has had to use scheme water to flush out salt in turf after bore water browned the turf. Water from three City of Belmont bores in the newly developed Ascot Waters Estate was measured at 14,000 parts per million in May 2003, rendering it useless because it was more than three times as salty as sea water. I find it absolutely extraordinary that the state government is still offering a $300 rebate for domestic garden bores. This no doubt has had a bearing on the 9,600 garden bores that have been installed in the metropolitan area since February 2003 and that are now contributing to the problem. On 2 March this year it was reported that the Water Corporation had granted the Western Australian Turf Club a waiver to use up to 216,000 litres of fresh water per day on its race track to dilute its salty bore water. This is equal to the consumption of 170 households.

The Department of Environment in Western Australia seems to be moving incredibly slowly on this issue but has at least admitted to the media that the numerous incidences of bore water being found to be too salty indicates a need for management action to allow the aquifer to recover. Mr Ed Hauck, the Department of Environment’s hydrology and water resources manager, is quoted as saying that the saline water is seeping into the aquifer tapped by bores from the Swan River, the adjoining Leederville aquifer, or both. He said this was due to poor rainfall and possibly excessive bore water use, which prevents the aquifer being replenished from its usual sources as fast as it is being taken out. Surely these warnings need to be heeded. Surely the state government should be moving to ensure that measures are taken to address these issues before they get any worse.

We Democrats encourage the Western Australian government to be part of the National Water Initiative in order to benefit from the experiences and expertise of other states on the important issue of water. The federal government has allocated $2 billion towards better use of water resources in Australia, and I encourage Western Australia to make the most of the opportunities that this funding might provide.

Current management regimes to reduce water use have been put in place in the Great Artesian Basin, which lies under areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales. A joint federal and state government program has provided incentives to land-holders to cap free-flowing bores and pipe open bore drains. The Chair of the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee, Mr Geoff Austin, says this has led to environmental benefits and a reduction of water extracted by 94,000 megalitres a year. Western Australia’s population is set to increase by some 800,000 by the year 2030 and climate models show a drier and warmer south-west region in this period. We need to be more sensible with the water we currently have and more productive in our methods of recycling and creating more of the resource. Effluent and stormwater recycling for irrigation is already undertaken in some country areas, but much more must be done to see us into the future.