New proposals floated for water supply

WATER has always been an issue for those living in the Goldfields.

Despite CY O’Connor’s historic legacy of a 600-kilometre pipeline from Perth, there are constant reminders of just how tenuous is the region’s connection with its thirst-quenching water supply.

For instance, community leaders claim that, only two summers ago, the City of Kalgoorlie Boulder had just two days of water on hand.

So it’s no wonder the issue has surfaced again, with several proposals to change the way water supply is handled under examination.

“A good water supply provides the essential lifestyle expectations of a modern community,” Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Hugh Gallagher said.

“People won’t come here just for the money any more.

“They want lifestyle, and with a lot of the mining professionals well-educated, and accustomed for some time to a quality of life, that means a lot to them. They regard these issues as critical. Quality of life is critical in making a decision to come and stay. It is critical to family life – and that, in turn, is critical to industry.”

The Goldfields and Agricultural Water System pipeline from Mundaring is restricted in the amount of water it can supply and there is limited storage for it, so alternative supplies and other options are essential, KBCCI president Tom Cole said.

Mr Cole said the cost of water was a major issue for all industries in the region.

Some small to medium-sized businesses have been given head cost estimates of $2 million with no guarantee of supply.

Mr Gallagher believes service and per unit charges could rise significantly within four years, severely restricting use.

City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder engineering services manager Tony Chisholm said the Water Corporation was looking at increasing storage facilities, but also was kept busy replacing sections of the pipeline. Old and made of cast iron, the pipeline is prone to bursting.

How much longer the entire Goldfields-Esperance region will wait for improved water supply depends on the outcome of what has been described as the most serious and comprehensive government examination of options to date, but final proposals are expected to be put to State Cabinet by the middle of the year.

Under the coordination of the Goldfields Esperance Region Water Supply Committee, the Water and Rivers Commission, two private consultancies, five working groups and numerous sub-committees are examining a potpourri of old and new proposals for water sources, towards forming a long-term water supply strategy.

Interested stakeholders are expecting a layered strategy that will comprise different water sources for different users and ensure improved and increased supply for the next century.

Three different private sector proposals – selected from 12 expressions of interest received by the State Government last year – form the focus of the investigations being done by the Water and Rivers Commission and consultancy groups ACIL Consulting and Welker Environmental Consulting.

These reviews encompass environmental issues, the true cost of the water delivered into the Goldfields now, the allocation of intra-regional water, and the support costs and benefits of new sources of water.

Office of Major Projects spokesperson Peter Goodall, who has been assigned the title of “project manager for the preparation of the Goldfields-Esperance water supply strategy”, concedes the water supply issue is a longstanding one. He has been involved with it more than once during the past decade and believes there have been eight reviews in the past 30 years.

The investigative reviews are due to be jointly documented by March, prior to a feedback period for major stakeholders and, possibly, the community at large.

The need for a detailed look at developing an adequate regional strategy has not only been obvious to those living and trying to do business there.

Technical professionals in government departments, including Water and Rivers Commission, are reported to have been frustrated by tight budgets , preventing them from carrying out continuous programs to address problems adequately.

Consulting hydrogeologist Kevin Morgan believes planning has suffered due to a lack of political pressure.

Mr Morgan, who can boast more than 45 years of professional perspective, says a good water plan which will encourage long-term development in the eastern Goldfields region is long overdue, but is nonetheless amazed at the level of development already achieved.

“An incredible amount of industry has taken place, utilising an enormous amount of innovation,” he said.

After numerous regional water supply reviews over many years, some Goldfields miners are said to be sceptical of any definitive outcome from the current process, but the general view is that the selected consultants are well-regarded, competent professionals, capable of producing a comprehensive report.

The mining industry requires millions of tonnes of water each year, approximately 1.5 tonnes of water for each tonne of ore.

But the water used by much of the mining industry from buried river beds in the region is hypersaline, up to eight times the salt content of seawater.

Hence, major regional processor Anaconda Nickel originally put forward one of the three favoured proposals under investigation, to pipe brackish water from the Officer Basin 450 kilometres north-east of Leonora. Anaconda has recently decided the project would not be economic and has subsequently withdrawn its proposal to be responsible for such a project.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy director Greg Johannes said that, while the industry used water from high saline content through to almost potable, the main issue, rather than particular sources, was effective access on a secure basis.

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief executive officer George Savell said there was no immediate crisis, but a lot of issues remained.

AMEC wants a management strategy in place so that the water not viable for regular community use, but which is used by much of the regional mining industry, is there for equitable use on a long-term basis.

The Kalgoorlie-Boulder CCI has been a keen participant in the review of options.

But the KBCCI has told the Government it wants only a potable water supply into the region. Should a breakage occur with saltwater pumped through the region, it would take years to repair the damage.

The KBCCI has also submitted a preference for the Water Corporation to be associated with any project that does get up, like the United Utilities plan to pipe desalinated water from Esperance.

Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission infrastructure and planning manager Ray Ciantar said the water supply strategy project was all about identifying needs and meeting these affordably.

Additional sources of water of varying qualities – delivered at affordable prices – could attract a broader range of industries, ensuring a more diversified regional economy, decreasing its dependence on the fortunes of the mining industry.

Whatever the final outcome, the first ever long-term water supply strategy is keenly awaited by all who are keen to see life and business improve in a region larger in area than New South Wales.

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