The climate is shifting, and decreased runoff has become the new normal. Dry years pose more of a threat than ever, and the risk of running empty dams has become a lot more evident in recent years.
Farm water security is essential for a sustainable business model and there are two sides to this:
1. Water Quality & Water Economics
“Anything less than pure water is a compromise.” Graham Laslett (Principal Agronomist, Combined Agronomic Service)
If you are sourcing water off-farm then this no doubt incurs a significant cost and many farmers know via first-hand experience that water carting is both costly and time consuming.
2. Water Risk Management
The other side of the discussion is around long-term risk management. The climate is shifting and whether it is extremely dry or wet; agricultural operations need to be adaptable. Relying on the government to provide drought resilience is a gamble and poses a significant threat to farming businesses that rely on government supplied water.
The truth is rainfall is outside of our control, and while you can install more catchments you will still ultimately be at the mercy of the weather.
“Almost 90% of dams in the West Australian Wheatbelt are unreliable.” Dr Richard George (Senior Principal Research Scientist, DPIRD)
So while you may be experiencing a wet year at the moment, the dry years are an inevitable reality.
Groundwater is the little-known secret…
“Groundwater in Western Australia is a useful resource for farms and communities. However, it is often saline and unsuitable for on-farm and community use. Desalination can remove much of the salt from groundwater and produce suitable water for livestock, crop spraying, horticulture, and domestic uses. While desalination is not the only source to be relied on, when coupled with traditional water sources such as dams and scheme water, desalination produces an extra layer of water security during times of need.” Dr Vishnu Ravisanker (Murdoch University, Western Australia)
If you can make a ground water supply work, then it can alleviate a huge amount of stress and anxiety by making you less dependent on the rain. And now that water treatment technology is much more cost-effective, it means that previously ‘useless’ water sources can now be viable.
Due to the convergence of new technologies, securing a more reliable high-quality farm water supply has never been more cost-effective.
“Various studies have shown that community scale RO plants can be more economical than a scheme water supply or drought-driven water carting in remote communities.” Dr Vishnu Ravisanker (Murdoch University, Western Australia)
Firstly, advances in third generation desalination technology have led to significantly improved automation, efficiency, and lower operating costs. Secondly, solar allows for off-grid plants and pumps.
There can be considerable infrastructure involved in treating ground water (tanks, pipes, pumps, site works, the treatment system etc.) however the long-term payoff is something every farmer should be carefully considering.
How to implement water treatment …the right way
The truth is this topic requires research and planning if it is to be executed well. A reactionary approach is likely to lead to a sub-par solution being implemented, or the solution being implemented far too late.
As a vendor, who has talked with hundreds of growers across Australia and a handful of farmers internationally, I can assure you there is a substantial quality difference in what is being offered out there on the market. And there is a checklist of questions I would recommend asking a potential supplier before purchasing a system.
And while RO plants CAN be more economical than a scheme water supply it is very much a CAN statement. Because there are countless disaster stories of people buying cheap systems with a low CAPEX on the front end and ultimately, they have ended up paying a small fortune on consumables and servicing over the long term.
If you are interested in learning more about:
– On-farm desalination
– Other farm water treatment technologies (e.g. iron removal & UV sterilization, etc.)
– Installation case studies