Think big for lakes
‘We’re far from powerless’
AWimmera-mallee municipal leader has ignited a call for fresh investigations into finding ways to regularly fill terminal lakes at the end of the Wimmera River system.
Hindmarsh Shire Council mayor Ron Ismay said if authorities could find a way to guarantee regular flows into Lake Albacutya near his home town of Rainbow, they would make inroads into solving water issues throughout the Murray Darling Basin.
Cr Ismay said a consistently flowing Wimmera River and a resulting full series of lakes along its length would socially and economically transform western Victoria.
He admitted that while being little more than a dream, it was far from inconceivable considering the history of human ingenuity in accessing and using water.
“Based on predictions of a dryer climate in the future, simply waiting for enough rain to make the river consistently run and to keep lakes full might never happen,” he said.
“But we’re far from powerless. And in intervening, it might be a case of getting results through clever engineering, science and of course investment through ‘big-picture, longterm’ thinking and planning.
“It has always been obvious that the level of water supply is ultimately dependent on rain in the catchment.
“But what if we looked beyond that, opened the scope of possibility and seriously considered what is available to us and where can we seize the initiative?”
Cr Ismay said the Wimmera-mallee Pipeline, which came with a $700-million price tag, had been an example of courageous and successful human intervention to secure water security for a vast expanse of western Victoria.
But he added that an empty Lake Albacutya remained a stark reminder that the project had yet to fulfil one of its goals – to generate enough water savings to allow water to reach the terminal lakes.
“We would be in terrible strife now if the project hadn’t happened. Evaporation and seepage through open channels would have literally left us high and dry,” he said.
“But what happens next? Do we do nothing? It’s clear from latest studies and reports that lakes and rivers have the potential to generate millions of dollars in socio-economic growth in regional areas and we need some options.”
Cr Ismay said it had only taken him a short amount of ‘digging’ to find there had already been scientific breakthroughs in Australia on new ways to easily and efficiently purify saline or contaminated water.
“If there is robust science on the books proving this can be done without costly energy requirements and other problems surrounding current reverse-osmosis desalination technology, surely this needs further exploration,” he said.
“We don’t only have saline water in the sea, which we could possibly tap into relatively easily – suggestions are there is also an abundance of underground water in our part of the world.
“It might be an option, it might not, but it’s worth a look.”
Cr Ismay was referring to an announcement by CSIRO scientists in February last year that they had made a breakthrough in water purification.
The scientists confirmed they had established a new method of desalination that was ‘more energy efficient, economically sustainable and cost effective than current technologies’.
Their method involved the use of membranes made from tiny spongelike crystals called Metal-organic Frameworks, which could capture, store and release chemical compounds, such as salt in seawater. The process is called ‘selective permeability’.
A CSIRO spokesman, in updating details, confirmed the organisation had proven the science and the technology beyond doubt but that ‘scalability’ now represented a major hurdle in its general application.
Cr Ismay said a $1.5-billion Federal Government commitment to and call for water-efficiency projects across the Murray Darling Basin, and news the Wimmera River had started flowing naturally for the first time in almost two years, had prompted him into action.
But he said he had also been pondering the issue ‘for quite some time’.
He agreed that he was, but made no apologies for, probing into realms bordering between reality and fantasy.
“We need to do something and it’s not going to be easy,” he said.
“Many believed the Wimmera-mallee Pipeline was also a ‘pie in the sky’. But now it has not only well and truly paid for itself and rescued communities, it continues to expand.”
Lake Albacutya, listed as an international wetland of significance, can only fill when Lake Hindmarsh at Jeparit overflows into Outlet Creek, which connects the two water bodies. Lake Hindmarsh is also dry.