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Published: 3 October 2011

Groundwater management vital for Ord Irrigation species

The Federal Government has granted environmental approval to the next phase of the Ord River Irrigation Expansion Scheme.

Approval has been granted for the next phase of the Ord River Irrigation Expansion Scheme on the basis that scientific research is adequate and management plans are in place to protect important species.
Credit: Bruce Doran

The Ord East Kimberley Expansion Director Peter Stubbs says the Environment Minister’s decision this month followed a year spent discussing the project’s Environmental Impact Statement with departmental officials.

He said they also had to survey the area for several vertebrates listed as threatened, endangered or vulnerable, and would have to continue to do so for ten years.

They contracted scientists to prepare conservation plans for the Speartooth Shark (Glyphis glyphis), the Northern River Shark (Glyphis garricki), Dwarf Sawfish (Pristis clavata), Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis Microdon) and the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae).

‘It was a matter of convincing them the amount of scientific research is adequate and we have management plans in place to protect the endangered species,’ he says.

‘There has been a state environmental approval with its own conditions since 2000.’

Mr Stubbs said many of these were carried forward when the proponents made a referral to the commonwealth under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

‘Mostly it’s about design of the irrigation system so any runoff is not contaminating catchments,’ he says.

He said one of the major studies was the ground water management plan conducted by an inter-disciplinary panel with scientists from various institutions.

Hydro-geologist Dr Richard George led the team that produced the study.

‘The work that we’ve been involved with relates to the landscape and how it operates,’ he said.

‘[This includes] the impact analysis of the likely changes that are going to take place with the introduction of agriculture, both in terms of the impact under the area of the development itself and also in the downstream environment.’

He said they also prepared a risk management plan.

Mr Stubbs said the Environmental Impact Statement also included plans for fire management; groundwater discharge (‘should you ever need to discharge any groundwater’); a buffer plan to manage an 11 000 ha buffer zone; a weed and pest animal management plan; and an environmental offset plan.

Source: ScienceNetwork WA, Geoff Vivian

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