WA farmers urged to tap into new tools for water

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
DPIRD land and water scientist Richard George.
Camera IconDPIRD land and water scientist Richard George. Credit: Countryman

A leading water project expert has warned WA farmers they have to become more resilient to changes in the climate.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development land and water scientist Richard George told delegates at the Sheep Easy 2021 forum last Thursday that WA’s farming industry was unprepared for the past three years of dry conditions.

“We don’t understand climate variability very well,” he said.

“In the last 100 years, we have experienced the three wettest periods of the last 700 years.

“During the 1700s and 1800s WA experienced 30-year droughts in the South West.”

Dr George said there had been big fluctuations in rainfall, some relatively short and others fairly long, in WA’s agricultural history.

“We’ve seen our water systems exposed, our dams sitting on the side of hills without catchment,” he said.

“During the recent dry years we’ve seen 450 road trains carting water for livestock.

“We lost 30 per cent of 10mm rainfall hits and 30 per cent of 25mm hits, which we have relied on for filling the dams.”

Dr George said WA required 40 to 50 gigalitres for all livestock requirements.

“Since clearing, we have created an amazing drought water supply,” he said.

“If only we can acquire that water when it is fresh or pump out saline water and make it fresh.

“There is water, it is how you get it and sustain it.”

Dr George said WA farmers had a combined total of 200,000 dams.

“Through technology, we can now map every dam in the Wheatbelt and map all flow lines,” he said.

“In three years, we believe we can use technology for storage calculations and be able to do an evaluation of dams that are effective and those that are not.

“We will have the capacity to make dams workable again.”

Dr George said there was an array of tools to make dams work, from plastic catchments to dam covers and the use of polymers for dam construction.

“A tool to be released soon is a geology targeting map for groundwater supplies,” Dr George said.

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