Fears about the exploding use of water in the Pilbara have prompted BHP Billiton and authorities to launch a major study into the availability of supplies in the resource-rich region.
The move coincides with research by the University of WA's Law School into whether the cumulative effects of water use in the Pilbara are governed properly under existing State legislation.
Amid skyrocketing mining activity and a booming population, Water Minister Bill Marmion yesterday said the Government would tip $1.5 million into a Pilbara water study that would cost $4.5 million.
The remainder of the money would be provided by Australia's top scientific agency, the CSIRO, and mining giant BHP Billiton, whose profitability relies to a big extent on its huge iron ore operations in the Pilbara.
Mr Marmion said the study was needed to get a better understanding on the quality and amount of water available as economic growth spurred competition for the resource. "It will look at such issues as: will total rainfall increase or decrease; will the gaps between cyclones that recharge our resource increase; will the flooding caused get worse," he said.
The issue flared last year when Rio Tinto came under fire for its use of water on iron ore stockpiles in the Pilbara, at a time when the region's water supply was straining under a growing population.
Rio eventually reached a deal with the Government to develop new bore water sources.
CSIRO scientist Don McFarlane, who will spearhead the project, said understanding of the water situation in the Pilbara was patchy and the study would be vital in giving a much clearer picture.
"There's an enormous lot of detailed work done around . . . the impact of a particular mining development," Dr McFarlane said.
"But (nothing on) the cumulative impact of those developments."
Dr McFarlane's comments echoed those of UWA researchers Lauren Butterly and Alex Gardner, who are researching whether water use could be having "adverse impacts" on the Pilbara's environment, and possible regulatory clamps to limit any damage."It is anticipated that, by 2030, water use in the Pilbara will almost double and the greatest increase will occur in mine dewatering," the pair said in a draft scoping document for a National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training funded project.
The new magazine for a new generation of West Australians.Click here to download »
All the latest market figures from Australia and the world.Click here »
'The West Australian' is a trademark of West Australian Newspapers Limited 2013.
All rights reserved.
Select your state to see news for your area.