Call for practical drainage approach

25 Jan, 2005 10:00 PM
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PROPONENTS of deep drainage as a salinity solution are leading a charge to take its management out of the hands of bureaucrats in the lead-up to the state election.

They claim viable salinity solutions have been hamstrung by the complicated structure of natural resource management in WA.

Wheatbelt farmers were most recently angered by the Avon Catchment Council¹s (ACC) decision to not extend the tenure of probationary chief executive Roy Duncanson, who was considered to have a forward-thinking approach to drainage.

Mr Duncanson said he was lodging an unfair dismissal case but could not comment on the reasons for his termination.

Narembeen farmer and WA Channel Management Group (WACMG) member John Hall said the system governing salinity research in WA was over-complicated and filled with academics with no practical experience.

³In the Avon Catchment Council there are 65 committees, how can you function with any sense of reality in that type of environment?² Mr Hall said.

³No government in the world would consider adopting the current structure of salinity management in WA.²

Mr Hall said there needed to be one minister and authority with clear responsibility for salinity management, with drainage as its first priority.

Progress was to be led by people with proven results, including landowners.

Beacon WACMG member John Dunne said the State Government needed to take a leading role on progressing drainage.

³Any major project that happens on a state or commonwealth level, is not led by the agencies - it¹s led by the politicians, and the community gives them the confidence to go ahead with it,² he said.

He said progress on major projects such as the southern rail link or Dawesville Cut, was instigated directly by government.

³It doesn¹t come from agencies arguing for years and years,² he said.

WACMG has argued for a regional drainage trial as a prototype for a scheme to channel saline water to the ocean.

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance was among a delegation that travelled to deep drainage advocate Stuart Tohl¹s Kojonup farm last week.

Mr Tohl said Mr Chance was impressed by the speed of recovery achieved by the drains on the property.

³He was looking at drains built in 1996 and said he thought they would have been built 20 or 25 years ago,² Mr Tohl said.

³Of course that¹s a sign of this area, it¹s a lot more difficult to achieve in the Wheatbelt, but I¹ve argued that if we do the easy things first, it might help us with the hard bits later on.²

Mr Tohl agreed there needed to be less bureaucracy governing drainage.

³We need to coordinate all the groups to stop them pulling in different directions, we¹ve got to go back to the start again and have one authority,² he said.

Mr Chance said he was impressed not only with the speed of landscape recovery, but also the way Mr Tohl¹s drains were adapted to different conditions.

³In one site in particular, Mr Tohl made the point to (Soil and Land Conservation commissioner) David Hartley that had he supplied a notice of intent to drain, there was no way it would have been approved, because the gradient was so great that the protocols indicate scouring would have occurred from the speed of the water running through there,² he said.

He said this indicated there needed to be more flexibility in assessments of drainage applications.

He said the structure of natural resource management and catchment councils in WA had been enforced from a federal level and added another tier of bureaucracy to salinity management.

He said the State Government was attempting to improve and simplify the links between these, landowners and the agriculture and environment departments.

It was possible that the government could take a leading role in a major regional drainage network but the government would always have to work through its agencies to overcome development issues.

³If you were to put in drains from the Yilgarn to the Avon River for example, you¹re immediately dealing with private property; you¹ve got people who will be concerned about the damage to their property. Later on you¹ll have people concerned about the health of the Avon, then the Swan, so these aren¹t things you can solve by simply getting on a bulldozer,² he said.

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