While the Myalup-Wellington Water for Food project will have obvious benefits for farmers in the region, there has been concern among the community about the effect it will have on the water levels in Collie River.
The project, which will take highly-saline water from the Collie River and treat it at a desalination plant which will be built near Collie, received a commitment of $190 million from the Federal Government to begin work.
It is expected the project will create around 800 jobs for the region, across construction of the desalination plant and pipe network and agriculture.
Local river expert Ed Riley said while the project would benefit some in the region, there was community concern about how the river would suffer downstream.
”The community concern for the health of the river is valid,” he said.
“The river will no longer benefit from traditional flow, rather it will just receive regulated flow.
“Essentially, flows in the river will only be released as Collie Water sees fit.”
Mr Riley said limiting the flow of water into the river, particularly in the summer months would harm the river as it now struggles to hold its water.
“The river has lost its capacity to store water as it did in the past. The pools have lost their capacity to recharge,” he said.
“You can’t take out water along the river without water levels being affected elsewhere.
“While the water in the river will be of better quality, the project is not going to help out the Collie River downstream.”
Collie Water chairman Peter Fogarty said the health of the river was a concern throughout the project.
“[The water level] has been a concern which is why we have strict protections in place regarding how much water we can take,” he said.
Mr Fogarty said Collie Water had worked in conjunction with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation to set guidelines around how much water can be taken for the project.
Mr Fogarty said the project had strict obligations that it had to ensure there was at least one megalitre, or one million litres, of environmental flow in the river per day during the summer before any water could be taken and 3.5 megalitres per day in winter.
He said while it was possible the river may dry up during the summer months, it would not be because of the Water for Food project.
Shire of Collie chief executive officer David Blurton said the shire was working to ensure the project would have as limited effect on the river in town as possible.
“What is clear from modelling on the Collie River is that although there will likely be less water in the river system, the water will be of better quality,” he said.
“Council is currently reviewing its river revitalisation strategy and this will include actions to ensure that the amenity of the river is maintained through the Collie townsite.
“Funding has been provided through the State government to initially design and then install a structure to control water levels, particularly through the dry summer months.”
Mr Blurton said the decreased amount available in the river would affect sports clubs and other organisations, who use the river for irrigation purposes.
“The playing fields at Roche Park, the Collie Golf Club and many of the shire's parks rely on river water for irrigation. The shire is working with the Department of Water and the affected clubs to look at alternatives,” he said.
Mr Blurton said while the project would have benefits for the town, especially as it continues to look at diversifying its economy.
“[The project] will provide much needed construction jobs for the Collie area as well as a number of ongoing maintenance and production jobs once complete,” he said.
“There are also investigations into a promising agriculture project within the Shire of Collie that could use this water to grow food for export.”