The dream of growing cities in the Pilbara is a step closer to reality after investigations revealed massive underground reservoirs able to support rapid growth in industry and agriculture.
The untapped water sources include the West Canning Basin, which experts believe can supply 100 gigalitres a year to centres in the Pilbara. The second major source is 30GL a year from groundwater in the Hamersley Ranges.
A lack of water has been regarded as a big stumbling block to development of the Pilbara beyond the mining industry.
The State Government is fast-tracking moves to make use of the water, claiming there is potential for industrial applications and irrigated agriculture on the doorstep of towns such as Port Hed- land and Karratha.
Demographer Bernard Salt has said Karratha should become Australia's next big city.
Writing in this month's Australian Geographic, Mr Salt said Karratha's population should reach 100,000 by 2060.
Pilbara MP Brendon Grylls said using water to diversify the Pilbara economy with a focus on agriculture was a logical step. Mining billionaires Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest have already moved into the sector.
Mr Grylls said the potential was not limited to fodder crops for cattle, with some likelihood of fresh fruit and vegetables being grown close to regional centres.
A four-year water discovery program is concentrating on the Sandfire area of the West Canning Basin, which covers 10,000sqkm east of Port Hedland.
The West Canning Basin is part of the Canning Basin, one of Australia's biggest artesian basins.
Water Minister Mia Davies said the Government was confident good quality fresh water could be drawn from the Sandfire area.
"Test drilling in progress shows good quality fresh water with the potential for 50GL a year of new water," she said.
The groundwater in the Hamersley Range is earmarked for agricultural development under the Government's Water for Food program.