Millions of litres drained from Wheatbelt tank

Millions of litres drained from Wheatbelt tank

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Beringbooding water tank near Bonnie Rock in the Central Wheatbelt, the largest rock catchment tank in Australia, is being emptied into adjacent bushland so the Water Corporation can remove the roof. The timber frame inside the concrete tank supporting the iron roof sheets is collapsing, with a risk of loose sheets being blown off the roof. Photo supplied by Romina Nicoletti.

Beringbooding water tank near Bonnie Rock in the Central Wheatbelt, the largest rock catchment tank in Australia, is being emptied into adjacent bushland so the Water Corporation can remove the roof. The timber frame inside the concrete tank supporting the iron roof sheets is collapsing, with a risk of loose sheets being blown off the roof. Photo supplied by Romina Nicoletti.

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"I've been fighting to save the tank since 2005, it's one of the reasons I became a councillor."

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"UNBELIEVABLE" is how Bonnie Rock farmer Romina Nicoletti describes Water Corporation's action in letting 8.5 million litres of rain water run into the scrub to empty nearby Beringbooding water tank.

Ms Nicoletti, who is also a Mukinbudin Shire councillor, said the Water Corporation started draining the concrete tank after an onsite meeting with her, the shire and Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development representatives on Wednesday, March 10.

When Farm Weekly spoke to Ms Nicoletti on March 29, she said the tank was still emptying.

She said Water Corporation workers had run a pipe from the tank outlet through a culvert under Beringbooding Road into bushland to the north and turned the tap on.

"It's unbelievable they could just let all that water run into the bush," Ms Nicoletti said.

"The tank was overflowing for the first time in a decade and they just let the water go."

Beringbooding water tank, built in 1937 in the north-east corner of the Central Wheatbelt as part of a regional employment project, is the largest rock catchment tank in Australia, capturing water off about 3.5 hectares of Beringbooding Rock, 65 kilometres north east of Mukinbudin and about six kilometres east of Bonnie Rock.

It still provides farm water for several surrounding properties, with Ms Nicoletti, who farms four kilometres away, the biggest user of the tank's water.

During the season Ms Nicoletti employs a semi-trailer tanker driver who does a run to the water tank, often daily depending on the timing and season, to cart water to spray to help get crops going after seeding and to mix with herbicides to control weeds.

But a timber frame supporting galvanised iron roof sheets is collapsing, with some sheets falling into the tank and loose sheets likely to blow off the roof.

With an adjacent bush camping area and toilet, a balancing boulder, large gnamma hole and indigenous cave paintings as attractions, Beringbooding Rock and its water tank is a popular tourist location at weekends and during holiday periods.

It is promoted by the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre, but the loose roofing sheets are deemed a risk to the public by Water Corporation.

"The roof has been getting worse - sinking in - for the past five years," Ms Nicoletti said.

"I've been fighting to save the tank since 2005, it's one of the reasons I became a councillor."

She said at the March 10 meeting, the Water Corporation indicated workmen would start dismantling and removing the roof after the Easter holidays when there was less likelihood of visitors to the site.

Once the tank roof is removed Water Corporation is hoping to dispose of Beringbooding water tank to the Mukinbudin Shire, giving them a financial contribution as an incentive to take it over.

She said the Water Corporation had previously tried to pass responsibility for the tank and its collapsing roof to the shire, but the money it offered at that time was not enough to even have the roof removed safely, so was rejected.

"Hopefully, this time the amount of money we (shire council) get will be enough to put a new roof on it," Ms Nicoletti said.

"Who knew the Water Corporation can predict the weather - knowing it is going to rain after they've let all that water go?

"Everyone knows that if you leave a concrete tank dry for any length of time you compromise its integrity.

"So hopefully they'll get the roof off, it'll rain and put some water back in the tank - it doesn't need much rain to put water into it.

"When we bought this property (in 2005) about six properties used water from the tank and it was free - that was a bonus.

"They brought in scheme water (piped from Mundaring Weir via the Goldfields pipeline and a branch pipeline running north), but that water was only supposed to be for domestic use.

"After a couple of years they started charging us for the water (from Beringbooding water tank) and it was actually more expensive than the scheme water, but it was better water for crops - it's good water and more reliable out here than scheme water.

"I think it would be very short-sighted to leave us depending on just the pipeline as our only source of water."

Ms Nicoletti said the only mitigating factor in Water Corporation releasing rain water into the bush at this time, was it was not needed just now because of good recent rains.

"It's been a fantastic start to the season - we had 100 millimetres (of rain) in February, 30mm in January and 80mm last November, so we've got good soil moisture and I'm really confident about the season ahead," she said.

"We'll be doing the full 10,000ha cropping program this year (wheat and barley) - even putting in the canola we've got in the shed."

While a neighbour had started sowing, Ms Nicoletti said she was about seven days away from starting her sowing program, particularly with temperatures predicted to reach 40 degrees and above at Bonnie Rock this week.

"Provided we do get some rain into the foreseeable future we should be alright," she said.

Water Corporation Goldfields and Agricultural Regional manager Michael Roberts confirmed water from the Beringbooding tank was being drained to allow the dangerous roof to be removed before winter.

"Water inside the Beringbooding tank must be drained prior to the removal of the roof for occupational health and safety reasons," Mr Roberts said.

"About one-third of the tank has been emptied to prepare for the start of works.

"Two-thirds of the tank's capacity has been left as non-potable water supply for local farmers until the end of April and to help the shire fight bushfires," he said.

Mr Roberts said Water Corporation and Mukinbudin Shire have "appealed" to the local and wider community to take as much water from the tank as they needed free of charge and water will remain available for spraying purposes until the end of April.

"The capacity of the tank is much greater than current demand from local users," he said.

"As such, there will always be some water in the tank which will need to be emptied to safely carry out the work.

"Due to the location and costs associated with carting water from the tank, the only practical solution is to offer the water to the shire and local farmers.

"As the tank was built in the 1930s, the roof is deteriorating and requires removal.

"It is only in recent times the roof sheeting has become dislodged.

"To ensure the safety of the community and visitors to the site, Water Corporation has committed to the removal of the roof now so that works can be safely undertaken and completed prior to winter rainfall."

Mr Roberts also confirmed the Water Corporation was working with the local shire to "identify a practical solution for the future of the tank, so that it may continue to benefit the local community long after fulfilling its role as a Water Corporation asset".

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