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Joint Media Release
Commonwealth Minister for Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
&
Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture
Warren Truss
&
Western Australian Minister for Agriculture
Kim Chance
&
Western Australian Minister for Environment
Dr Judy Edwards

8 December 2003

$2 Million to Evaluate Salinity Engineering Projects in WA


In a move designed to help farmers fight salinity in Western Australia's wheatbelt, $2 million has been announced to help identify the most effective engineering options for salinity management.

This is one of the first funding commitments under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality bilateral agreement recently signed between the Prime Minister, John Howard, and Western Australian Premier, Dr Geoff Gallop.

Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss; Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp; WA Minister for Environment, Dr Judy Edwards; and WA Minister for Agriculture, Kim Chance, today announced the $2million in funding for projects under the $4 million Engineering Evaluation Initiative (EEI) to be established in regional Western Australia.

According to the National Land and Water Resources Audit - Australian Dryland Salinity Assessment 2000 - the annual loss in profits for the WA agricultural sector, due to salinity, is estimated to range from $80 million to $260 million.

The successful EEI projects - currently being carried out by landholders - are spread throughout the wheatbelt from Esperance in the south, as far north as Morawa, and across to Southern Cross.

Evaluation of these farmer's projects will deliver targeted evaluations of engineering practices such as deep drainage, groundwater pumping, and farm-scale evaporation basins to help West Australian farmers and communities respond to salinity.

The projects to be evaluated include:

"At each of the deep drainage and groundwater pumping sites, the evaluation will include not only measuring changes to groundwater levels, but also look at the changes needed to the soil to improve crop productivity," Dr Edwards said.

"The downstream impacts of drains and pumping will also be assessed to understand their significance and what needs to be done to these to minimise any serious impacts."

Mr Truss said the Engineering Evaluation Initiative was a priority project under the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, jointly funded by the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments.

"Salinity is a major environmental threat facing Western Australia. About 1.8 million hectares in the south-west agricultural region are already affected by salinity to some extent," Mr Truss said.

"Projections show that without rapid, large scale intervention, including significant changes to current land use practices, about three million hectares will be affected by 2010 to 2015. If there is no intervention, six million hectares, or 30 per cent of the region, could be affected."

Dr Kemp said 61 catchment, grower-based groups and research institutions from Geraldton to Esperance applied for funds as part of the new Engineering Evaluation Initiative to manage salinity.

"The successful EEI projects were selected by a steering committee comprising Australian Government and State agency engineering experts, private drainage consultants/contractors and several community and landholder representatives.

"The projects were selected because they were technically and economically sound, well supported by the community and would deliver better understanding of engineering options such as drainage and groundwater pumping," he said.

"The range of the EEI projects being funded as part of the $2 million mean farmers and other interested groups across the salt risk areas of Western Australia will have information to help design and implement more effective engineering options that will also deliver economic and environmental benefits by addressing, and ultimately reducing salinity.

Mr Chance said once the projects were accredited, they will be fully implemented early next year.

"The funding, matched by landholders in each group, will deliver realistic evaluations of engineering options for salinity recovery and management," he said.

"The EEI is an exciting first for Western Australia and will help contain and even recover salt affected land in the wheatbelt."

More information about the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is available at www.napswq.gov.au.

Commonwealth of Australia