Interest flowing in on Watering WA
Watering WA is a $30 million Royalties for Regions funded State Government initiative, led by the Department of Water, to create the actions and infrastructure needed for farms and towns to expand the use of non-drinking water.
The initiative was launched in July and the department is already receiving lots of interest from dryland communities and farmers about getting funds to support new and improved water supplies.
This program is all about banking more water – and getting more out of that water. This is why, for the first time, farmers connected to reticulated schemes can apply for rebates to support development of on-farm water supplies.
“When water becomes scarce in these dryland areas, the farmers need to fall back on scheme water – whether at a town standpipe or through the scheme,” the department’s rural water planning manager Mike Allen said.
“In the past we have concentrated on the farms in areas where there is no reticulated scheme linked to farms, and where farmers would have to go off farm to truck in water.
“Now, $4.4 million is available as part of Watering WA, to extend this work to include farmers connected to scheme water. Rebates under this program support professional farm water audits and rebates of up to $20,000 for works to improve on-farm water sources.”
Mr Allen said Watering WA was also busy working with regional shires to develop non-drinking supplies.
“We are working together to identify opportunities to capture stormwater, reuse treated wastewater and provide access to dams and assets no longer used for town drinking water supplies.”
Watering WA also includes a $4 million investment in improving the health of Avon waterways, with on ground works including fencing, revegetation, sediment removal, and better farm nutrient management.
Creating an atmosphere for innovation
The Department of Water is calling on members of the public to put forward innovative ideas around water use and management through the Your Say WA Water website.
“The forum is part of the Western Australian Government’s Water Innovation program,” Department of Water Executive Director of Policy and Innovation Tad Bagdon said. “The department recognises the contribution the community and private sector can make to developing innovative and creative water solutions, to address Western Australia’s water opportunities and challenges.”
The Water Innovation online conversation uses ‘challenge questions’ to drive discussion. New questions are posted on a regular basis.
“A Water Innovation Advisory Group has been established to help drive the program,” Mr Bagdon said. “The group is chaired by Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Matt Taylor MLA, and brings together leaders in innovation from a range of sectors.”
A series of workshops and roundtables are also underway focusing on urban water, regional water, water for industry, agriculture and mining.
“These gatherings take place in a positive and constructive atmosphere where participants, who usually do not have the opportunity to exchange ideas, get together for better understanding and appreciation of what is possible,” Mr Bagdon said.
The Water Innovation Advisory Group will draw on outcomes of the workshops, roundtables and online conversations to put together a water innovation report for the Water Minister later this year.
Esperance insights reveal secure water future
A recently completed water resource investigation around Esperance has provided a never before seen picture of the area’s groundwater aquifers, while helping confirm there is enough water to meet the South Coast town’s water needs for the next 30 years.
Almost three years ago, a plane with a strange coil hanging below it was flying overhead west of Esperance to the eastern side of Lake Gore and east to Mullet Lake Nature Reserve, and captured the imagination of locals.
This airborne electromagnetic survey was part of the $1.6 million Royalties for Regions South Coast groundwater investigation to look at borefields and associated areas for town water supplies.
A key piece of this work was preparing a three-dimensional model of the aquifers showing where the freshwater is, how thick it is and how it varies across the area.
Groundwater and rainfall chemistry data, and analysis of groundwater hydrographs, were also used to estimate the proportion of rainfall that recharges the aquifers.
The work has returned positive results for Esperance water security as groundwater is the best and cheapest source for Esperance’s scheme supply.
“Even taking into account reduced rainfall and recharge in future years, the results of the investigation show there is enough water to support growth for 15 years on current licensed allocations, and another quantity of water available in the west of the groundwater area to support further growth, including highest growth projections for at least 30 years,” South Coast region manager Brett Ward said.
“One of the main outcomes of this survey was to identify where the saltwater interface from Pink Lake and the ocean is, because this influences how much water can be taken from the ground near those water bodies.
“The saline lakes in the area, like Pink Lake, Lake Warden and others in that system to the east, and the lakes bordering Butty to the west (Lake Gore). all impact on the groundwater hydrology and salinity and therefore how this water resource is managed.
“Thanks to all this work we now have mapped the extent of the aquifers, the rainfall and recharge patterns, and potential risks of intrusion from the sea into the aquifers from over-pumping.”
Waterways expertise brings national wins
The Department of Water’s expertise in managing urban waterways has been recognised again at the 2016 Australian Business Awards with the department announced an ABA100 Winner in two categories.
“As valued inland waterways come under land use and climate pressure, more than ever our expertise is being sought by the community to lead development of scientific approaches and strategies to maintain system health among competing interests,” Director General Mike Rowe said.
The department was an ABA100 Winner in the Sustainability category for the South West Index of River Condition and in the Project Management category for the Urban Waterways Renewal project.
“Both awards are a recognition of the work achieved by the department and its predecessors in developing the tools and approaches to successfully manage the state’s rivers and estuaries,” Mr Rowe said.
“Refurbishment of existing drainage lines into living streams in the Swan-Canning Riverpark through Urban waterways renewal reflects cooperation between the South East Regional Centre for Urban Landcare (SERCUL), Water Corporation, Swan River Trust, and the cities of Canning, Gosnells and Armadale.
“The South West Index of River Condition (SWIRC) provides us with an ecologically robust and accurate assessment protocol to determine and adapt best practice for sustainable management of waterways.
“Assessment of the values, threats and condition of our waterways is a core element of the department’s function, and helps us determine the requirements to support our aquatic environments, while regulating water use and managing the impacts of land use and climate.”
In 2013, the department’s Denmark salinity recovery project won the ABA100 Australian Business Award for Environmental Sustainability - celebrating the first time an Australian river has reversed salinity levels to become fresh.
From catwalk to catchment: Targeting excess nutrients through nanotechnology
Known for aiding colour retention in nail polish, lipsticks and eye shadows, nanoclays are being explored as a means to help reduce algal blooms and fish deaths in trials sponsored through the Regional Estuaries Initiative a four-year $20 million Royalties for Regions program to restore the function and improve the health of south-west estuaries.
“The nanoclay has been developed by CSIRO and we are doing the first real trials using it in the field as an agent to attack excess nutrients,” senior soil and water scientist Dr Brad Degens says.
Western Australia is no stranger to innovation in this field of development. It was in WA that CSIRO in partnership with the Swan River Trust and the Department of Water developed the product known as Phoslock as an agent to bind nutrients and reduce ecosystem loads worldwide.
“Phoslock worked well in fresh water environments, whereas the new nanoclay is effective in a wider range of water qualities, from brackish to saline,” Brad says.
In a scaled series of tests, Brad and team have been working out how much clay to use in various different water-flow scenarios, from pond to stream to estuary.
“When we say it locks the nutrients up, it means it creates a chemical bond with the nutrients so that no living things such as algae can use them.
While similar in some properties and purposes to the cosmetic industry, the hybrid clay is specifically designed for safe application in water bodies.
“This a specifically designed hybrid clay, that has all of the benefits of nano particles that in this case have a high capcity to adsorb nutrients anchored to a conventional clay that will settle out,” Brad says.
The Regional Estuaries Initiative trialled nanoclay has potential for application in estuaries, agricultural drains and urban waterways as a tool to immediately lock up nutrients that fuel algal blooms while other activities in the initiative work to reduce nutrients at their source within the catchments.