Grylls pledges talks on Argyle

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls will make it a priority to discuss lifting Lake Argyle's capacity by 10 times the volume of Sydney Harbour with traditional land owners after giving the plan in-principle support.

The WA Government is considering the findings of a study it commissioned on increasing the lake's capacity from 10,670 gigalitres to 15,500gl by building a higher barrier wall across one of four huge spillways.

Mr Grylls said proponents of growth in the Ord River Valley saw increasing the lake's capacity as a good project, but the $80 million plan had not been discussed with the Miriuwung Gajerrong.

"I think there is some potential there but I would like to keep my strong relationship with the traditional owners and I would like to be having the conversation with them first," he said.

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"We have got a Federal election coming up where dams and northern development have been talked about by both sides of politics so I would have thought that it will come on to the agenda."

The extra water would be used to attract investment in developing 100,000ha of agricultural land in the east Kimberley and the Northern Territory under plans to extend the Ord irrigation scheme.

The Wilderness Society director Peter Robertson said the Government would be tipping another $80 million down the gurgler on top of the $311 million it had already spent on the scheme in recent years.

Mr Robertson said the money being poured into the Ord could be better spent on supporting agriculture in the south of WA, including the Wheatbelt.

"Where is the best bang for the taxpayer buck? I would say it is the south, not in some expedition up in the Ord with all the problems that come with growing food on any scale in the area," he said.

Mr Grylls said crop failures in the Ord were judged more harshly than in the Wheatbelt.

"When I was farming in the Wheatbelt we tried different crops and some failed . . . it didn't mean that the Wheatbelt was written off," he said. "If the same criteria were used on all agriculture as people use on the Ord, no agriculture would stack up."

Mr Grylls said progress at the Ord, including land clearing by Kimberley Agricultural Investments, was likely to attract interest from other big investors.

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