Think big for lakes

‘We’re far from pow­er­less’

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Front Page - BY DEAN LAWSON

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?”

Stark re­minder

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.

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