AFTER 25 years of self-funded research and development Earth Sustaining Sciences Group (ESS) founder and chairman Wayne Sampey has created what he said was “the world’s first all-natural, economically viable, environmentally and societally sustainable bio-desalination process”.
Dr Sampey said help from WA farmers led to the accomplishment, which will benefit producers – particularly in a broadacre system where a lot of clean, usable water is needed to improve crops – and reduce soil salinity.
He said the system was “immediately applicable to any specific location, providing cost-effective, sustainable, disturbed land and water remediation and rehabilitation and concentrated upon minimal change for maximum benefit”.
“The outcomes are rapid advancements in commercially prosperous agriculture tailored to co-exist with environment and society,” Dr Sampey said.
The process utilises locally-sourced, natural micro-ecologies that are cultivated within the farming system and applied in a full-cycle, sustainable process with minimal waste.
He said even the effluent from the soil treatment was immediately useful and superior to most bore and irrigation waters experienced in Wheatbelt and orchard areas.
Dr Sampey said the Wheatbelt Soil and Water Salinity Solutions Project started through interest from the farming community for rapidly deliverable, cost-effective solutions to the soil and water issues on which agriculturalists, governments, universities and private groups have, for over many years, expended large amounts of resources and funds to minimal or no avail.
The project has three locations – in the Dongara, Corrigin and Hyden areas – which were selected according to geography.
In combination, they demonstrated both similar and varied complexity issues and have receptive, solutions-seeking communities and pastoralists.
“With work continuing, we can report excellent results in primary solutions designs – all world-firsts and the current world-leading science and sustainable, cost-effective practical delivery in desalination and full-cycle soil solutions, which is affordable to all farmers,” Dr Sampey said.
He said the ESS Group’s Symbiotic Aquatic Bio-Reactor Bio-organic Desalination Solution (SABRBODS) had delivered greater than 95 per cent desalination in raw seawater, up to 66pc desalination in mine water (with laboratory trials improving the existing field results to 90pc) and up to 99pc desalination in agricultural water and soils salinity.
Development is progressing towards commercial agricultural solution delivery trials.
Dr Sampey said the situation was so bad that if something was not done to improve water quality in WA’s agricultural regions it could be economically disastrous for agriculture.
“Salinity is an accepted part of the Australian landscape which occurs naturally across many environments,” he said.
“Immense stores of salts have accumulated in the soil, ground and surface waters through the long-term influence of natural processes.
“Over hundreds of thousands of years, the Australian native vegetation evolved according to rainfall and salinity levels characteristic to their environment.”
Dr Sampey said the past 60-120 years of human activities, including “dramatic land clearing and monoculture saturations of the landscape with shallow-rooted crop species had, in many areas, dramatically disrupted the natural hydrological balance”.
“This has had significant consequences for the distribution of salt in the landscape and severe dilapidation of natural and agricultural environments,” Dr Sampey said.
“Australia is facing an environmental problem that could and very likely will, bring our economy to its knees, if we continue to ignore it the way we have in the past.
“We have known about it since 1924, but only since the 1970s have we seriously tried to understand and combat it.
“Albeit, without measurable success considering the vast time and funds applied to the issue.”
Dr Sampey said current information indicated that in WA’s Wheatbelt alone, between 0.9 and 1.1 million hectares were severely affected, between 2.8-4.5mh were at immediate risk, productivity losses were more than $344 million per annum and potential losses are estimated at more than $1.3 billion per annum.
“The salinisation of the land and water, seen as a significant threat to Australia’s soil, vegetation and water resources, is a great risk to the well-being of the agricultural industry, community livelihoods, GDP and the environment,” he said.
“The total area of land affected by human-induced salinity in Australia is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades unless effective solutions are developed and immediately implemented.
“These solutions will require significant changes to our present systems of land use and management, along with a major shift in approach, from a focus on the symptoms of salinisation to applied solutions.”
Dr Sampey said ESS’s micro-ecological Symbiotic Aquatic Bio-Reactor (SABR) process of soil and water lifecycle solutions was available to help resolve the issue.
The desalination process was developed from acid mine drainage, caustic industrial waste and effluents management processes.
The SABR process, which relies on a managed micro-ecology of locally occurring natural and non-modified bacteria, has been highly successful in managing pH and stripping metals and metalloid contaminants from mining and industrial water in conditions of 0.5pH to 14pH.
The ESS Group has built upon this foundation to develop stable systems to biologically remove salinity (bio-desalination).
The system is functional in two complementary modes of implementation - one allows sustainable low-cost delivery of freshwater from seawater or brackish sources, while the second can desalinate soil to enhance fertility and arability.
The ESS Group has reduced seawater salinity from 35,000ppm to below 2000ppm and salt-lake and saline agricultural soils and water from 27,000ppm to less than 50ppm.
The ESS Group’s goals are to utilise the SABR processes to facilitate ecosystem-stable bioremediation and desalination of sea and surface waters for agricultural and human use and the bioremediation, desalination and reinvigoration of saline soils for agricultural use, in a commercially effective, sustainable manner.
“The ESS Group SABR processes reduce and control agricultural and natural environment loss through salinity and mitigate the growing intergenerational societal risks that water and soil contamination present,” Dr Sampey said.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is a world first.
“ESS Group are aware of numerous university and industry research groups have been working on this general type of process for some years without success.”
Dr Sampey said ESS has expressions of interest from pastoral groups and individual farmers to advance the Wheatbelt Soil and Water Salinity Solutions Project trials as a commercially-viable practice.
All properties will, with an appropriate agreement, provide land for commercially-oriented trials.
There are also discussions for the development of an ESS Institute research, education and demonstration farm and plans to unite the ESS Institute with a major delivery facility in WA.