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Floods revive pipe dream
Ben Jones Floods revive pipe dream

Ernie Bridge is like a dog with a bone; the former Labor member for the Kimberley and water minister was back in the Kimberley last week spruiking his scheme to use the region’s water resources.

The Broome Advertiser flew over the Fitzroy River’s sodden floodplain early last week with Mr Bridge as he mused on his long running plan to pipe water from the Fitzroy River south through the Pilbara to Perth.

According to Department of Water statistics, the Fitzroy River’s annual flow exceeds 9200 gigalitres — more than 30 times Perth’s annual water consumption at 300 gigalitres.

Mr Bridge is not against damming the Fitzroy River, a proposal which has been met with stiff opposition each time it has been raised over recent years.

But he believes a dam on the Margaret River at Margaret Gorge could be utilised.

He said his plan differed hugely from Premier Colin Barnett’s plan for a Kimberley-to-Perth canal which the then opposition leader campaigned strongly for at the 2005 State election.

Under Mr Bridge’s plan, a mixture of groundwater extracted from below the Fitzroy River and surface water would be used to fuel agricultural development of land firstly in the Kimberley region before being piped to southern parts of the State.

“There’s an awfully important lot of land development that needs to occur (in the Kimberley),” he said.

“I know we get excited about gas production and mining, but really, seriously speaking, the Kimberley’s land has to be developed for the future generation of Kimberley people.

“I think there’s the place for the orderly and proper development of the Kimberley as well as the expansion of Perth.”

Mr Bridge said there was a vast amount of studies which needed to be undertaken to determine how much water could be taken out of the system and how it could be used.

When contacted by the Broome Advertiser, Premier Barnett did not rule out reviving the plan. However, said he believed currently there were more efficient ways to manage water supply.

“The 2005 election was basically a referendum on the canal issue,” he said.

“However, in the long term, there’s no doubt the southern parts of Western Australia are becoming drier while the northern parts of the State are becoming wetter.

“In the long term, we do potentially have a solution if the south of the State continues to dry out.”

Mr Bridge said his proposal was more workable than the canal proposal and politicians around the country needed to take a serious look at his idea.