No watering down a farmer's concerns

29 Apr, 2011 04:00 AM
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Ben Cobley says these wetlands are at risk if KML gets their water licence applicatiion approved.
Ben Cobley says these wetlands are at risk if KML gets their water licence applicatiion approved.

MINGENEW farmer Ben Cobley is concerned about a precedent if Karara Mining Ltd's (KML) application for the remaining allocatable water from the Parmelia Aquifer is approved.

"Should this application go ahead, it is going to be okay for a mining company or any single proponent to take 86 per cent of an aquifer's allocatable water, but more importantly, 100pc of the water that remains, irrespective of future use of the enterprises or individuals that live on that aquifer," he said.

"That doesn't seem right in this day and age."

Mr Cobley said the Rights in Water Irrigation Act (RiWI) was not sufficient when dealing with a fully subscribed situation.

He said while the interim report stated it was not government policy to reserve water for specific industries as this may restrict development, if the application was approved, it would have the same effect.

"Broadacre margins are getting tighter so we are looking at horticulture but if the application goes ahead, we will have to forget it," Mr Cobley said.

"It is consigning all of us to being broadacre wheat, sheep and lupins farmers from here on in and government should not be able to do that."

Mr Cobley said the Mid-West Department of Water (DoW) expected the mining industry would require 110 gigalitres of water in the region.

"This is a fight for only five of those, so this is not going to be the only aquifer that is going to undergo this process in the near future," he said.

Mr Cobley said changes to the RiWI Act currently being discussed may put completely different restrictions on water use but in the meantime, they would be committed to using pristine fresh water for industrial purposes to wash rocks instead of growing food.

He said the DoW's assertion there was a demand for water from miners now, that agriculture couldn't provide, was short-sighted.

Mr Cobley said world population was expected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050 and agricultural production needed to double to meet demand.

He said his 5500 hectare Erregulla farm had been purchased in 1966 because of its proximity to water and the quality of the water.

"If 60 litres a second out of three bores is taken for the next 40 years, how can anyone be sure, given what is happening with declining rainfall, that this water just for stock and domestic purposes, isn't going to be under pressure because of the activities down the road?" he asked.

He also questioned the results of any studies by KML.

"One would be unsure of the rigour of that study because the proponent is paying for it," Mr Cobley said.

He said KML's own earlier hydrological study had shown the Yandanooka borefield was too shallow but now said it was okay to extract water from.

He said an existing magnetite operation 105 km south east of Karratha was desalinating three times more than what was needed by KML from the Parmelia-Leederville aquifer.

Mr Cobley said KML was building a 145km pipeline to the Yandanooka borefield, irrespective of where its other water requirements came from and it was only another 45km to get to the coast.

"Someone needs to intervene in this process," he said.

"We understand there is a bureaucratic process being followed and adhered to and yes it is constrained by the guidelines of the Act and current governmental policy, but this is a unique situation."

Mr Cobley said the fact the water source was pristine, potable and of a quality essential to agriculture, should be part of the consideration process.

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