Survey to gauge water stocks

Corrina RidgwayCountryman

Livestock owners east of Esperance are being asked to take part in a survey to establish whether there is a stock water deficiency in the area.

Producers have until October 31 to complete a Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) survey, the first phase of a three-stage plan for the area by the department.

DAFWA veterinary officer Lee Chester has been working on water deficiency issues in the Esperance region since mid 2010.

"We need to establish whether there is a shortage," she said. "If there is a deficiency, DAFWA will work with the Shire of Esperance to establish alternative off-farm sources of water."

Shire records show the Mt Howick bore has been a necessary resource since last year.

Esperance Shire administration and project officer for engineering Jennifer Parry said five million litres of water had been drawn out of the bore since December 2010.

"Water usage did drop last month but it is on the increase again," she said.

The amount of water available from the Mt Howick bore is unknown and until producers in the area are surveyed adequate information to secure required funding for a report on the reservoir will be hard to obtain.

"We know that growers are already undertaking management decisions to factor in potential water shortages," Dr Chester said.

Strategies being used by farmers include piping supplies, mixing water sources, destocking and even desalination.

The McDonalds run 16,000 sheep across several properties 100km north-east of Esperance, as well as a feedlot capable of carrying 10,000 head.

A total of 7000 sheep are kept in the feedlot, although this was recently much less because of water supply concerns.

Up to 300 Angus cattle were run two years ago but the family has been forced to destock their cattle operation completely.

"We couldn't go into summer with them, it was too big a risk," Neville McDonald said.

Their strategies for sourcing water included piping from a source 6km away and carting. During January to April, 17,000 litres of water were carted every morning to replenish on-farm resources.

Piping stopped in May as feedlot numbers fell and a few brief rain events offered some respite until the arrival of a desalination plant in October.

Sourced from a Victorian piggery, the Novatron 3500 is capable of desalinating sea water and will cope with up to 40,000 litres a day at a rate of 2000 litres an hour.

Water is piped from the plant, which runs for five to six hours a day, into a holding dam and then onto the feedlot.

"In the future, we will put a tank in with a pressure overflow going into the dam," Mr McDonald said.

A total of 17mm of rain on October 22 and 23 has given Mr McDonald hope that empty dams may soon start to fill.

"Hopefully we can turn (the desalination plant) off and we don't have to use it for another 20 years," he said.

Areas 140km north-east of Esperance recorded falls of 10-50mm but Salmon Gums farmers were not so lucky.

A third consecutive DAFWA survey of the Salmon Gums area, declared water deficient in June, confirmed severe water shortages.

"Of the 30 responses from livestock owners in the area, 25 are still carting water, or will be in November and December," Dr Chester said.

Water Corporation area manager for Goldfields Anthony Bodycoat said since June this year, farmers in the area had been carting an average of 500,000-600,000 litres of water a week for livestock.

"With low rainfall leading into and throughout the summer, it is expected that water usage will be significantly higher," he said.

The DAFWA Esperance office is offering free dam and bore water saline tests to producers in the area.


For more information or to participate in the Esperance Farm Water Shortage Survey, contact Dr Chester on 9083 1111 or email

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