Lake Argyle, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Lake Argyle, Kimberleys, Western Australia
Lake Argyle, Kimberleys, Western Australia. Formed by the damming of the Ord River, it is an enormous body of fresh water - 20 times the size of Sydney Harbour! Agriculture is developing rapidly there and the potential for supplying water for other parts of Australia is great. July 2015.

Copyright © Rob Duncanson

The Ord river Dam was completed in 1971. The dam itself is an earth fill dam, 335 metres long and 98 metres high. It filled in 1973 and the spillway flooded until 1984. Lake Argyle's usual storage is about six million megalitres, the largest water reservoir in Australia. Lake Gordon/ Lake Pedder in Tasmania is larger, but that is two dams connected by a canal.

In 1996 the dam was raised by 6 metres, which doubled the capacity of Lake Argyle. Though there was some concern about it silting up, the amount of sediment inflow has reduced in recent years.

Lake Argyle, together with the neighbouring Lake Kununurra, form the Lake Argyle and Lake Kununurra Ramsar wetlands site. There is a thriving ecosystem on Lake Argyle which is why it is internationally recognised. Many waterbirds - about 150 000 -, native fish, and a population of freshwater crocodiles - about 25 000! - make their home on Lake Argyle. Occasionally even a salt water crocodile has been spotted. Unfortunately, even cane toads have reached Lake Argyle, in 2008.

Lake Argyle was originally intended to grow cotton, but insect pests caused too many problems and that was abandoned in 1974.

Between 1973 and 1983 rice was grown, with a peak production of 3500 tonnes in 1982. A small mill was built to process the rice. From then until 2010 there was little interest in rice. In 2010 and 2011 there were trial plantings of rice, but the results were mixed.

Currently there are about 150 square kilometres of farmland irrigated, growing a large variety of crops.

But what about using all that water to supply the drier parts of western Australia further south? WA Premier Colin Barnett proposed a canal when he was opposition leader in 2005. The idea was bucketed by many, and may well have cost him the election. But there is an ongoing interest in piping water from the Kimberley to Perth. Former MP Ernie Bridge has said that a pipeline from the west Fitzroy River intersecting the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline would be good. Colin Barnett still believes that the abundant water in the north of Western Australia is a resource that should be better used, and that it is inevitable that it will happen eventually.

To me it is just obvious. The whole state would benefit. The north would see real development - which is vastly overdue. The challenges are significant, but then they were even more significant 110 years ago when they built the Perth to Kalgoorlie pipeline with very basic technology. That pipeline has been operating successfully ever since.

More info at Wikipedia.