Lake Argyle

By GRANT MAYNARD

THE first thing he tells me is that he’s not an engineer.

Refreshingly honest.

But, he adds, “I do have a practical background, and the benefit of 80 years of hindsight.”

“This is my vision of Australia’s future,” Peter says acknowledging his plan will require proper feasibility studies and costings to be done.

“But I feel sure the outcome is achievable,” he adds.

“And, I don’t think the cost would even come close to that of the NBN, our suspect submarines or the money sunk into freeways to get people in their cars from A to B five minutes quicker.”

In a nutshell, Peter’s plan is to use excess water from Lake Argyle, in the far north of Western Australia and pipe it thousands of kilometres south-east to the Menindee Lakes and several points between, including a branch line to St George, Queensland and the E.J. Beardmore Dam with its Lake Kajorabie.

In fact, he is proposing a network of pipelines, not unlike blood vessels in the human body. It is an analogy he is more than happy with, after all, he points out, water is the lifeblood of agriculture.

Under his plan other places to be serviced by the pipeline would include Alice Springs in the Northern Territory; Mount Isa (Moondarra Dam) and Barcaldine-Longreach (Thompson River) in Queensland; Gunnedah in NSW (Lake Keepit Dam) and South Australia’s Leigh Creek.

The proposal would mean the construction of at least one new dam to service The Alice, but much of the infrastructure to contain the extra water exists already.

The aim, Peter explained, is to drought proof more than half of the Australian continent by using the pipeline to top-up existing infrastructure (dams), rivers and lakes in the event of a lack of rainfall or as demand required.

He further explained that water could be drawn off along the length of the pipeline “to provide sufficient water to support agriculture where climate, soil conditions and accessibility are suitable.”

“By using a system of valves, remotely controlled by satellite from a centrally-operated computer control room, we could deliver water where it is needed,” Peter said.

The pipeline, he explained, would be constructed from recycled plastic by processes that already exist.

It would, he added, be one way of making use of Australia’s over-abundance of recyclable plastic that other countries are now refusing to take.

“We would use solar power to run pumping stations and the systems many valves,” Peter said. 

Balancing act

“Water flowing into Lake Argyle during the Top End wet season balances with distribution further south during its dry season. 

“The lake takes in the equivalent of one Sydney Harbour’s volume of water per day during the Wet…most of which now runs out to sea.

“Imagine this whole system is like your backyard where you capture rainwater for your house or garden. The tank is Lake Argyle. The pump to pressurise the stored water is the pumping station(s) and the pipeline is your garden hose or the pipe into your house. 

“The ‘valve’ at the end of the line is your tap or hose nozzle.

“Once the whole system is pressurised and a valve or tap is opened, the pump cuts in and water flows through to its destination.

However, Peter says the actual pipeline may require some ‘booster pumping stations’ to push the water over topographical ‘hurdles’ like the odd hill.

So how much pipe would be needed?

“Approximately 2400 kilometres,” Peter says, with the main arterial pipeline having a diameter of 2.4 metres and being buried one metre underground.

Australia might be known as the driest continent of the planet, but Peter disputes that.

“We have plenty of water. It is just in the wrong places,” he argues.

His comprehensive research into the idea has revealed some startling facts and figures, not least of them being that Lake Argyle draws from a catchment area of 46,000 square kilometres, with an average rainfall of 550mm a year and has a capacity of 20 Sydney Harbours!

That, he says, isn’t all.

“At flood times, the lake covers more than 2000 square kilometres and could fill Sydney Harbour 70 times over,” Peter said.

That’s a lot of water in anyone’s books.

Lake Argyle and the attendant Ord River Scheme also generates power.

“The water that drives the turbines before it empties out into the Ord River and onto the ‘Diversion Dam’ for irrigation.

That only accounts for about 10 percent of the water flow, Peter said.

“The balance flows on down the river and eventually out into the Timor Sea.

What a waste, he says.

Peter is well aware of a similar water redistribution schemes, like the so-called ‘Bradfield Scheme’ highlighted in an earlier edition of the ‘Weekly.

“This scheme wants to use water diverted through the Great Dividing Range from east of the Divide to rivers flowing south-west down to Menindee Lakes,” Peter said.

“The problem with this scheme is evaporation. 

“The Bradfield Scheme uses mostly open rivers, and evaporation would become a huge factor.”

However, the Argyle water would be carried predominantly by pipe and therefore evaporation would be minimal, ensuring the majority of the water from Lake Argyle would reach its intended destination, Peter argues.

“With the Argyle plan, the Thompson River could be closed off when satisfactory rainfall is not available because water that reaches Lake Eyre via other connecting rivers and creeks only flows in flood events,” he said.

Then there is cost.

“The estimated cost of Bradfield was $3.2billion blowing out to $6.9billion many years ago,” Peter said.

Cane toad concerns

He was also made aware, through the pages of the Mildura Weekly, about former Mildura resident and water sector veteran Ron Dudley’s concerns about Bradfield pipelines being a conduit for the spread of the cane toad.

“That was something I had not considered,” Peter admits.

He, and many many others, according to Ron.

That is not the only issue Peter has with the Bradfield Scheme, or the ‘New Bradfield Scheme’ now being touted in Queensland by former Federal Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson to put water into the Murray-Darling system.

“If we are going to spend the money, Australia needs to get considerable ‘bang for its buck’,” Peter argues.

“A much greater area would benefit from the Argyle Scheme, including Victoria, because there would be less pressure on the Murray to supply water to South Australia.”

Peter contends that no expensive power generation would be available, or necessary, under the Argyle plan. It would be solar all the way!

He cites the main benefits of his pipeline as:

• 1. Opening up the land along the length of the pipeline to agriculture, growing of stock feed and watering of cattle.

• 2. The complete drought proofing of large expanses of western Queensland, New South Wales from Mt lsa in a radius taking in Longreach, St.George, Gunnedah and Wentworth.

• 3. Release of pressure on the Murray River and tributaries by lowering the amount of water drawn to service South Australia and Northern Victoria.

• 4. The restoration of water to the Barkindji people, traditional owners of the Darling River and Menindee Lakes.

• 5. A reliable water supply for Alice Springs that currently relies on an aquifer that is estimated to last 100 years before drying out.

“Add to this the cost of pumping and the power required to get water out and distributed,” Peter argues. 

“Whereas a small dam of 20-30 gigalitres capacity fed by the pipeline would ensure water for the town and the expansion of agriculture around the town.

• 6. By building the infrastructure several thousand jobs would be created and into the future this would expand into hundreds of thousands of jobs by the distribution of water to many ventures. Jobs would be created with a department like Murray/ Darling to monitor and run the pipeline and pumping stations.

• 7. Pipeline maintenance would be minimal as plastic pipe buried in the ground does not rust or deteriorate.

• 8. The water distribution would be controlled by man in partnership with nature to ensure all rivers and dams involved are kept at serviceable levels.

• 9. In the event of heavy rainfall or flooding, the pipeline could be shutdown. In close liaison with BOM prior warnings and predictions can be brought into play sufficiently early for this to happen.

• 10. All this extra activity would allow Australia’s population to increase and have food, shelter and jobs.

Benefits for the west

Peter has also thought about the benefits for Western Australia too.

“Considering the Argyle Dam is in WA and the water belongs to West Australians it is only fair that they get the benefit of the sale of water for the plan,” Peter says.

“I envisage the establishment of a ‘pipeline authority’ to oversee the operation that buys the water at an agreed price, transports it to the end users who pay for their allocation, as is done with other irrigation and water schemes.

“Thus the passage of revenue would be WA Water> Pipeline Authority>State water operator, or private distribution operator for dams or rivers, to the end users.

“A win-win situation in for all the mainland States of Australia.

“I do not expect that all the excess water from Lake Argyle can be captured to go into the pipeline, but the fact remains that the water is there and it is running into the Timor Sea.

“But just imagine the Darling River rejuvenated – a dying river brought back to life; and the Menindee Lakes will have a permanent supply of water for the vast irrigation areas which are now struggling.

“The economic benefits to New South Wales are almost mind boggling.

“In all probability there could also be substantial benefits to both Victoria and South Australia, not least of which being new water that could help stop Lake Alexandrina silting up.”

Peter has shared his idea with a raft of politicians, most notable among them being Barnaby Joyce, but many others too.

The response, if there has been one at all, could best be described as lukewarm…at least up until just last week when he received a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Not getting a reaction at all seems odd in this age of endless form letters and spin doctors masquerading as political advisors and staffers. 

Surely it would be common courtesy to at least acknowledge receipt of his material?

Maybe the scope and potential of this plan is just too large for our modern pollies to grasp?

Or maybe they’re just too busy political point-scoring to really sit down and absorb it?

But Peter pushed on and was rewarded last week with the letter from the Deputy PM through his chief of staff, Damian Callachor.

In a nutshell, Peter was thanked for his interest and the outline of his plan.

Mr Callachor also acknowledged the importance of water supply and security to Australia’s ongoing prosperity, and outlined what the Federal Government was already doing through the National Water Grid Authority, in partnership with the States and Territories, to provide “national leadership on water infrastructure planning and development matters.”

“Reporting to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Authority is working in partnership with State and Territory Governments to identify, plan and invest in water infrastructure projects across the country that will grow our agriculture sector, increaser water security and build resilience to drought,” Mr Callachor wrote.

Turning to Peter’s Argyle Plan, Mr Callachor said: “Thank you for your proposal…the Authority is considering all options…including large-scale water harvesting and transfer schemes similar to that which you have suggested.”

“It is worth noting however that moving water over long distances can be costly, and a scheme such as you have proposed would not be without its challenges.”

However, in a pleasing inclusion, Mr Callachor added: “I have asked the Authority to include your proposal on the register of ideas it is keeping…”

“The big question that I am sure would be on most people’s minds is ‘How much will a project like this cost?’” Peter said.

“And Mr Callachor alluded to that when he said the project ‘would have its challenges.’”

Peter’s done a quick calculation working on the assumption that the pipe could, and should, in his opinion, be made in Australia – manufacturing that would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Another win-win for his plan.

He reckons the pipe would costs $15 to $20million for the 2400 kilometres his plan relies on.

Peter also points out that “the WA Government did consider piping water from Argyle to Perth some years ago which was 1600 kilometres, so they would still have costings.”

Also that: “The Bradfield Scheme covers similar distances in a different way but with massive earthworks and pumping costs to get over or through the mountains.”

“So I think their point regarding the cost of the Argyle Plan may be misplaced.”

Ever practical, Peter acknowledges that the total cost of the plan is beyond his scope to calculate, but maintains it would “certainly be a lot less” than the NBN, the suspect submarines he mentioned earlier, and horrendously costly mistakes like the insulation batts fiasco. 

“Frankly I do not know, but given the potential benefits don’t we owe it to ourselves as a nation to find out?”