State leads $1.5m desalination bid

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
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A dried up dam, near Ravensthorpe.
Camera IconA dried up dam, near Ravensthorpe. Credit: Zach Relph

Collaborative research efforts are under way as part of a push to increase the use of desalination plants on WA farms in a bid to boost water supplies and build climate resilience.

The State Government’s three-year, $1.5 million Water Smart Farms project aims to improve the ability of farms to weather dry seasons by processing brackish groundwater into a suitable resource for livestock, crop agronomy and other agribusiness activities.

Senior principal research scientist Dr Richard George — who is at the head of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development-led team behind the project — said it comprised three interlinking projects.

“The first component is working with Murdoch University to prepare an inventory of desalination units to get a better understanding of the motivation for such a significant investment, how it fits into the whole farm enterprise and how it’s working,” he said.

“We’re talking to landholders about their experiences, how they’re using the water and what they would have done differently so we can develop a better understanding of the application of this relatively new technology.”

Dr George said the second component, in collaboration with the Water Corporation, would involve the installation of at least four purpose-built desalination units throughout the Wheatbelt.

“This project will push the technology and explore the potential to use more saline water in desalinisation units,” he said. “The location of the units will be determined after drilling and extensive consultation to identify areas of need and potential collaborators.”

The third component is a targeted groundwater exploration program to identify suitable water supplies for desalination units.

An inter-agency team involving Curtin University researchers, DPIRD, the Grower Group Alliance and the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is working on the project.

“Desalinisation provides a unique opportunity to convert brackish or saline water into a supply suitable for different applications, like livestock, processing systems for agriculture or spraying,” Dr George said.

“This project will undertake a deep drilling program, to depth of more than 100m, to identify secure groundwater supplies in fractured bedrock that may have higher yields — something that has not been researched in the Wheatbelt before.”

Dr George briefed farmers and industry stakeholders on the project’s progress at the Grower Group Alliance forum in Perth last Friday.

Speaking at the forum, he said DPIRD was also conducting trials to return reject water back underground.

“We’re going to do some experiments irrigating saltbush; we’ve got a trial site hopefully setting up at Esperance to do that and a range of other things,” he said.

Dr George said the department was also looking at improving the reliability of the Wheatbelt’s vast dam network, including the use of polymers and various soil treatments.

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