Water Resources Minister Ernie Bridge has rejected as absolute nonsense claims that information on underground water reserves on the coastal plain is being kept from the public.
Mr Bridge said he was appalled that The West Australian had blatently ignored information provided by his office in compiling its front page article on June 27, headlined `Big Water Finds Kept From Public'.
That information included:
· a copy of a media statement from the Mines Minister dated March 30 which provided a public update on the groundwater exploration program in the South-West. The Mines Minister said in the statement that work carried out had been `very encouraging, confirming a significant water supply from the South-West' but noting that `until the environmental investigations are complete, the Government is not able to say how the resource can be best utilised';
· a copy of a briefing note from the Water Authority of Western Australia confirming that the sustainable yield from the South-West had been factored into the Perth-Bunbury study for use in the South-West, and also explaining misconceptions in a previous article in The West Australian on June 8 about the water source;
· advice that Mr Bridge had conducted numerous interviews with media in the South-West regarding the supposedly `secret' water source;
· advice that the water source in the South-West was not a new find and had been included in the Water Resources Council's `Water For The Twenty-First Century' report released to the public in 1988;
· information about the terms of reference of the current Kimberley Pipeline study, which was looking at the potential benefits of piping water from the Kimberley to Perth in terms of inland development, as well as water supply for the metropolitan region;
· advice that the Kimberley Pipeline Management and Advisory Board, which was overseeing the study, had been briefed last week on only its third meeting about the water source and had released a public statement to that effect, a copy of which went to The West Australian on June 24.
Mr Bridge said The West Australian had ignored all of this information in favour of quoting un-named `angry Government officials' who it said were claiming discussion of the find was being stifled because it conflicted with the pipeline plan.
He said it was of concern that some public officials refused to accept that the Kimberley Pipeline proposal was not solely about meeting Perth's future water needs.
"The water source referred to by The West Australian in no way conflicts with the pipeline study, and in fact has been formally and publicly placed on their agenda to ensure it is taken into account during their investigations," Mr Bridge said.
The Water Authority briefing note supplied to The West Australian states that the Mines Department had been carrying out drilling and reporting of the groundwater resource in question since the early 1980s and had determined there was a very large fresh groundwater resource.
It provides detailed information on estimated yields and quality, including a conservative estimate that about 160 million cubic metres could be abstracted annually. This is less than half of Perth's current water consumption.
Mr Bridge said he had repeatedly and publicly stated that a significant water source was available, but required further detailed evaluation, particularly regarding environmental impact as part of the water source is under a national park.
Mr Bridge said that considering the water source had been discussed in a previous front page article in The West Australian on June 8, it must be one of the worst kept secrets in town.
He noted that the June 8 article was followed up by The West Australian on June 9 with a further article which stated that `diminishing rainfall patterns in WA's South-West may have to be countered by new dams and water pipelines despite the existence of a giant underground freshwater lake'.
The article goes on to say that `since the 1930s researchers have noted with concern diminishing rainfall in big sections of the South-West, midlands and southern regions... The lake's replenishment - estimated to be about 200 million cubic metres a year - requires consistent rainfall and WA Conservation Council president Phil Jennings has warned that the new source will not be sufficient to answer fully the water needs of Perth's rapidly growing population'.