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Salt solution has power

A BOLD plan has been floated that could reverse the salinity problems facing the wheatbelt while generating enough power for 6,000 homes at the same time.

Agri-tech’s Peter Coyne believes running a series of drains from the shires of Dumbleyung, Wagin, West Arthur, Woodanilling, Narrogin, Wickepin, Broomehill, Katanning, Kulin, Kojonup, Boyup Brook and Collie will help lower the water table through the wheatbelt.

The rising water table is responsible for the salinity blighting WA’s biggest wheat producing region.

Former Department of Conserv-ation and Land Management CEO Syd Shea is concerned WA faces a real risk of going from an exporter of food to an importer of food if the problem is not addressed.

Mr Coyne believes the water drained from the wheatbelt could be brought to the Darling Scarp with the aid of gravity.

The water would than be dammed on the escarpment and released to a hydro-electric power generator at the foot of the scarp.

Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Corpor-ation general manager consulting Sergio Guidici believes the drop to the base of the scarp would be enough to generate around twenty megawatts of electricity a year.

The effluent water from the power plant would then be flowed into the Indian Ocean, probably north of Bunbury.

Mr Coyne said the scheme had the ability to correct thousands of hectares of land “people had just walked away from”.

It is estimated the scheme would remove twenty million tonnes of salt from the land a year.

“In time – and not a lot of time – the drainage will reduce the salt and freshen the groundwater,” Mr Coyne said.

“It’s even possible the scheme could freshen Lake Dumbleyung.”

Lake Dumbleyung used to be a freshwater lake with a greater surface area than the Swan River.

The drainage canals would even provide flood relief for the wheatbelt.

Mr Coyne said more than 94 per cent of the wheatbelt supported the project.

He said estimates he had developed showed the cost of the canals to be around $100 million and the cost of constructing the hydro-electric plant to be $50 million.

However, WA Government agencies have so far declined to support the plan, citing cost as the main problem.

A spokesman for Hendy Cowan, the Minister responsible for the WA Government’s Salinity Action Plan, said government estimates showed undertaking the channel side of the project alone would be cost prohibitive.

He had no figures to back this, however costs of $2 billion to $3 billion had been mentioned.

“That doesn’t cover the cost of electricity generation or flood control. Flood control would only be an issue if we suddenly had a lot more water,” the spokesman said.

He said the government had not discounted an engineering solution but “was not prepared to put all of its eggs into the one basket”.

Currently, the government is spending $40 million a year battling salinity through a range of projects including tree planting, mapping, surveying and alternative land uses.

Mr Coyne said tree planting to combat salinity was futile.

“It takes about twenty years until the trees will be mature enough to drink sufficient groundwater to lower the water table,” he said.

“By then the salt problem will have gotten even worse.

“Let’s fix what is there to be fixed and then plant that out to trees,” he said.

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