The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Liberal plans to drain Kimberley wilderness

West Australian environmental groups have labelled the announcement by the WA Coalition of a plan to commit billions of tax payers dollars to a water canal from the Kimberleys to Perth as "foolish and irresponsible".

Mr Barnett, the state opposition leader, made the shock announcement that a future Coalition Government would commit to the canal project in the opening address of his debate with Premier Geoff Gallop.

State Coordinator for The Wilderness Society, David Mackenzie said, "This Kimberley wilderness is a land of wild free-flowing rivers and abundant wildlife. It is a global treasure that should not be flushed into the sewers of Perth.

"The proposed canal would be a mega-engineering project that would put large areas of wilderness at risk.

"The ancient cycles of wet and dry support extensive forests, woodlands, wild unregulated rivers and groundwater zones. While much of our wetlands and waterways have been dammed or drained in the south, the north remains intact. Globally, this is one of the last tropical regions where this is the case."

The Coaltion's proposal is based on the claim that the Fitzroy River has an annual flow of 8000 gigalitres. The pipeline project which has been proposed and will financed by private corporation Tenix proposes to pump 200 gigalitres per year to Perth.

Yet the data available suggests the 8000 gigalitre annual flows have only occurred 10 out of the last 40 years. In dry years the total annual flow has been barely reached the 200 gigalitres the Coalition says it would pump to Perth.

Professor Peter Davies of the University of Western Australia said, "The water just isn't there during the dry season. The Fitzroy River is a boom-and-bust ecosystem. For nine months of the year it is a trickle, a series of pools only."

The need for addressing Perth's dwindling water reserves is well recognised.

"Perth's water problems can be addressed with a multi-pronged long-term strategy, but they won't be fixed by one-size-fits-all mega projects like a $350 million desalination plant or a $2 billion water canal", says the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

"If the sort of money being talked about by the Premier and the Opposition Leader was put towards water conservation and efficiency measures for business, industry and households, Perth wouldn't be facing a water crisis", said John Connor, ACF's Campaigns Director.

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