THE Shire of Mt Marshall may have just 600 ratepayers and a rate base of under $1 million, but it is leading the way in developing integrated solutions to rural WA's water problems.
The shire won a 2004 WA Water Industry Award for its project to increase the drought resistance and crop yield and reduce the surface water run-off, erosion, salinity and scheme water demand of Beacon farmer Irwin Andrews.
Mr Irwin and the council both contributed money to the project, which was completed in 2003.
The shire council believes it is the first surface water management system planned and implemented by a joint council and landholder effort.
Landcare technical officer Kevin Trustum said the genesis of the project was in 2001, when a special meeting of the council landcare committee and local landcare leaders identified 11 priority sites for funds to be directed to.
"All were on a catchment scale so they could deliver benefits to downstream landholders in the areas they were in," Mt Trustum said.
Mr Andrews' project was the first of these projects to progress and Agriculture Department senior landcare officer Martyn Keen ensured works were constructed according to the department's best practice guidelines.
The works included 46 grade banks of varying lengths, waterways for the disposal of water from the grade banks, and the building of key dams to hold the water for stock use.
The overflow of the key dams is directed into a waterway and moves downstream during abnormal rainfall events.
The grade banks allow land to be cultivated on the contour, which further reduces surface water run-off.
Mr Trustum said the project had become an example for landowners and councils elsewhere and attracted field group tours.
The Agriculture Department was even using it as an example of its best practice guidelines, he said.
He said the award recognised the small shire had achieved big things.
"To contribute significant resources to such a project was very draining, but directing funds towards integrated landholder projects has become one of the core objectives of the Natural Resource Management council," he said.
"Salinity and waterlogging are very significant issues in our shire and projects like this can stop significant amounts of water causing problems in the catchments."
Mr Irwin said the benefits of the project were clear.
"There's less run-off on the paddocks, less damage being done," he said.
"Previously, you could see the waterways being eroded, the water would get a bit of speed up and do damage that way. The contours lessen the flow of water."
Mr Trustum said there was more water available for stock, it caused less damage to his downstream neighbours, and crop yields had increased.