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Dry argument: fears for water

Claire TyrrellCountryman

A battle over water allocations in the Mid West is hotting up with mining and other projects seeking to draw on this finite groundwater resource.

The latest is WA’s first commercial almond orchard in Carnamah, which will need up to 20 gigalitres of water a year from the Parmelia aquifer in the Tathra subarea.

Select Harvests, which launched its 800 hectare orchard last week, already has a licence to draw 10gL/year from the aquifer.

The company is Australia’s biggest almond producer and plans to increase its WA plantations to more than 4000ha.

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Iron ore mining company Gindalbie Metals has an application pending with the Department of Water (DoW) to draw 5.3gL from the Mingenew sub-region of the Parmelia aquifer.

The DoW said if Gindalbie was successful in its application, it would exhaust the remaining water rights available in that part of the aquifer.

For Gindalbie to reach its annual production target of 30 million tonnes of ore, it would require close to three times the amount of its recent application.

Gindalbie Metals public affairs and investor relations manager Michael Weir said the miner would be looking at “all available sources” for its future water supply.

The DoW said there were 18.3gL of water available annually for future leases in the entire Parmelia aquifer.

If Select Harvests’ application for another 10gL and Gindalbie’s application succeeds, this would leave 3gL available annually in the aquifer for future use.

Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance chief executive Rob Jefferies said there were several developing projects that would require groundwater from Mid West aquifers.

DoW licensing policy operates on a first-in, first-served basis and does not discriminate between water users.

Select Harvests has also secured rights to 12gL of water from the nearby Yarragadee formation for an additional orchard at Twin Hills.

Yarragadee was an initial option for iron ore miner Gindalbie, before it applied for the Parmelia aquifer because drawing from Yarragadee would be too complex.

Pennington Scott Hydrogeology director Don Scott said it was the first time Select Harvests had used groundwater to irrigate an almond orchard.

Select Harvests WA operations manager Ryan White said its community consultations had found people weren’t “too upset with us using the water to produce food”.

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