Watering the West: C. Y. O'Connor

Submitted: Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 15:30
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I've just been driving around my local area crossing things off my daily list and I was listening to Radio National. They were broadcasting an audio documentary about C Y O'Connor and the water pipeline to Kalgoorlie.

See here: Radio National

I can't find it as a podcast unfortunately. It was impossible to listen to the story and not think of all that water in Lake Argyle. Back in 1898 there wasn't any cement in WA, it all had to be shipped out from England. The steel for the pipes had to come in sheet form from Germany and America. Rivets were replaced with a locking system invented by a Victorian. Special caulking methods had to be used. It cost £2.5m 115 years ago.

The critics and naysayers drove him to shoot himself on the beach south of Freo a few months before completion. He was also responsible for Fremantle Harbour.

Pity we don't have any pollies or business people who can see past the next election or financial report. It's also worth noting that only a year or so ago the pollies in the East were talking about tapping into Lake Argyle and pumping the water to the top of the Murray/Darling system because that area was going through a drought.

Last year we went on a tour down the Ord River. When the big wet occurred just prior to our trip they had to release a massive amount of water from Lake Argyle because it was in danger of breeching the wall. Each day (!) enough water went down into the ocean to supply Perth's domestic needs for a YEAR.

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Reply By: Member - Paul B (WA) - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 16:46

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 16:46
I've got a better and massively cheaper idea: move the people to where the water is.

There is no reason why so many people have to live in Perth, it has no natural resources to speak of, it is chock full anyway (been on the roads there lately?) and there's absolutely no reason for the vast majority of people living there to actually live there.

My two penneth worth.
Paul B Kalgoorlie

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Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 16:58

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 16:58
While your idea has some merit I am wondering about the cost of a pipe line from Lake Argyle to say Kalgoorlie via the mining towns in the NW.
The water could then be pumped in reverse from Kal to Perth using the existing pipe.
This versus the cost of infrastructure needed to shift a reasonable number of people from Perth to Kununurra and provide work for them.
Then there are climatic problems in as much as not everyone is happy about the wet season humidity and heat.
I certainly agree about Perth out growing a lot of our road system already, not mention Perth airport when the FIFO rush is on.

Cheers
Pop
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Follow Up By: Member - Bentaxle - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 15:00

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 15:00
Pop
I seem to remember a state MP suggesting this a few years ago and was howled down, a few years later another MP ( 'The Emperor') suggested building a canal to do the same thing agin it was dismissed.
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:09

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:09
Hi GB,

Just because a pollie touts an idea it doesn't mean its a good one! There was a proposal a few years ago (in the lead up to a WA election I think) to bring water to Perth from Lake Argyle. When the hydrologists did the sums it was soon realised that if the water was in an open channel then a combination of leakage and more importantly evaporation would remove most of it before it got anywhere near Perth. If it came down in a pipe, the pipe would have to be very big, and the water would have to be pumped to overcome friction, so it would not be cost effective.

Another fanciful idea that has floated around for a while is to open a channel to flood Lake Eyre so that a local microclimate would be established producing enough rain to grow crops. That would work, wouldn't it - or more likely it's the same channel problem as above.

There was a news item a few days ago suggesting that half of the food that is produced in the world is wasted, and some estimates put the level as high as 70%. When you consider how much water goes in to producing food maybe its a better option to find ways to cut down on waste (should not be that hard to do). And get people living where the water is rather than trying to move vast quantities of water around.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:17

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:17
Hullo Val,

yes, I know that every time this subject crops up that it is scoffed at by all and sundry.

But that happened in 1898 too. To the extent that O'Connor killed himself.

The Pipeline is compared to the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge as a human achievement.

1898: No cement. No steel sheets.

2013: Advances in engineering that O'Connor couldn't imagine.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:37

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 17:37
Hi again GB,

Yes I am familiar with the history of the Kalgoorlie pipeline and the disgraceful treatment handed out to O'Connor. But there is a big difference between a 500km pipleine and one maybe 2000kms long - a truly massive engineering project. And it has to be cost effective compared to other supply options, including desal.

I did a very quick search and among other things came up with the following, under the heading "The five biggest water supply projects in the world": In the 1950s, Communist leader Mao Zedong proposed moving water around the country to balance the scales. Now, half a century later, China has broken ground on the plan, called North-South Water Transfer Project. When construction finally ends in 2050, the system will feature three different lines: a 716-mile diversion called the "Eastern Route," a 786-mile "Central Route," and 310-mile "Western Route."

Note the distances, note the timeline and remember the population of China. Somehow if the Chinese need to take that long to move water over that distance cost effectively I can't see a Perth-lake Argyle pipeline happening anytime soon.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Gone Bush (WA) - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:21

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:21
Just to keep the comparisons going Val, and by extension, the possibilities.

No doubt you've been to the Moomba gas fields. That facility pumps three different products, in three separate pipelines, to three capital cities: Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

It would be an interesting exercise to work out the total length of those pipelines and see how close it gets to the distance from Argyle to Perth.

Maybe one day, when we secede, we will get it done.

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Follow Up By: Life Member - Phil B (WA) - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:29

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:29
Hi folks

It not just the cost of the pipeline thats the stumbling block, its the ongoing costs of energy to run the pumps.

'"Energy costs to pump the water from the Kimberley are about four times that of desalination which has proven to be successful in the south-west of WA," Mr Marmion said.'


See here for more
Kimberley pipeline

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Follow Up By: mfewster - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 19:40

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 19:40
Gas is a very different product to pump than water. The pumping takes much less energy and energy costs will continue to rise rapidly. As has been pointed out, much cheaper to desalinate water .. and that's expensive enough. In both cases we continue to assume that we can just keep using more and more energy. And much smarter again to look at stopping the urban expansion. Desalination is so expensive that water usage in the eastern states will lead to much smaller gardens over the next decade.
What do we want Australia to look like? For me, those bush forests and red gum rivers etc are key parts of the Australian heritage I treasure. They are the stuff that I want my 4wd for. They need preserving just as much as our history traditions.
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Follow Up By: WBS - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 21:21

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 21:21
That'd be right. Secede when the Ord Dam and irrigation scheme is up and running. Ungrateful bugger :). Who paid for the Ord scheme in the first place. It certainly wasn't WA. I can recall the WA premier (David Brand) going cap in hand to the Commonwealth. To quote from the Australian Dictionary:
"Funds were secured from the Commonwealth for the main Ord River dam in the Kimberley region, for the east-west, standard-gauge railway link and for beef roads in the north. Oil and gas deposits were discovered in commercial quantities. The State's population rose rapidly to over one million and, after 1968, Western Australia no longer sought assistance from the Commonwealth Grants Commission."

But I digress. The topology between Kununurra and Perth is very difficult in that it rises considerably from Kununurra through the Kimberleys then the Pilbara.

WBS
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Follow Up By: mfewster - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 21:50

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 21:50
I grew up in WA (Perth, Bedford Park while it was still mainly bush. I remember an occasional aboriginal camp there by a swamp behind what is now the Bowling Green)
You just have to laugh at all the talk of "secede" that is popular in WA. It is worth remembering that the Eastern States agreed to give huge levels of support to WA as part of the Federation agreement. But once the west is making $ from mining? Ah, that old Australian mateship!

What makes anyone think WA would be able to secede? I suggest Australia should auction the place off. That way the other states would get reimbursement for what they put in for all those years. China or South Africa would be likely buyers. If the locals didn't agree to this they could take it up with their new owners after the sale.
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Reply By: Gone Bush (WA) - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:30

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:30
In 1898 the average weekly income for a labourer in Australia was 11shillings and threepence. Let's make that ten bob for ease of calculations.

£2.5 million is 5 million times the average wage back then.

Average wage now is about $1000. Five million times that is 5 billion dollars.

I wonder how much of a pipeline we would get or that.

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Follow Up By: mfewster - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 22:31

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 22:31
You wouldn't get much for that. The closest water project I am aware of is the great man made river project in Libya. At about 1000km long, and without much in the way of hills, that was costed at around 13 billion US$ a decade ago. And that is with construction costs in North Africa. Costs today in Australia would be much more of course. And that is just construction. The actual costs of operation are staggering and over and above that.
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 08:58

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 08:58
They could get the NBN cable layers to do the pipe when they finished that one. Only cost about $100 billion.
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Reply By: Member - Arsenal Phill - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:56

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 18:56
At the risk of being chastised I am going to stick in my two penneth!!!

I think that something should be considered regarded to running the water from LA. I accept your comments on cost for pumps etc Val and obviously that is a big minus. Hopefully if the project were ever gotten off the ground the costs for solar will have further come down and that will then help to offset costs.

At the moment, as a humble layman, all I see is Perth expanding and pollies just making the place grow and grow. Unfortunately I don't feel we have the necessary infrastructure. It is all very well trying to encourage people to come to Perth but how do they think we are going to support all these extra people???? The dams are running dry. This issue needs to be addressed before the capita increases, not once its all too late. With every house that is built have they really thought about its singular impact on our depleted water resources? The math is scarey!

I have also heard of mining projects between here and LA that are below the water table. Mining companies are currently just pumping out water as waste that would satifsy Perth's needs for months at a time, in a matter of days. We just need some stronger and more 'far sighted' mangement bodies looking into the longterm protection of Perth and her resources.
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Reply By: pop2jocem - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 19:05

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 19:05
The pipeline to pump gas from the offshore wells to Perth and beyond was built some 20 years ago. Not only built but sunken below the ground several meters. With the customers being supplied along that pipe it appears to be working from a financial point of view.
Not only that it is financially viable to fill ships that have been specially constructed for the task and shipping to Japan and other Asian customers.
One of the major problems from my point of view is that water, and the quality we enjoy in Perth, is way too cheap. Put the price up to a more realistic value and you may find a lot less getting poured onto our sandy coastal plain to keep lawns and gardens alive.
Yes I am connected to the scheme water network.


Cheers
Pop
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Reply By: Member - Jack - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 20:17

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 20:17
ABC TV had a program called 'Constructing Australia' which had a very good story on C Y O'Connor. There was a dvd of the episode (from memory).

Link to Constructing Austraila

You may find it worth chasing down if the subject interests you, as it did me.

Jack
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 20:34

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 20:34
If anyone wants to have a look at the reports about water supply and availability that have been prepared for the federal government, have a look here. Down the list a bit you will see a 2010 study titled "Moving water long distances: Grand schemes or pipe dreams?". The ideas that have been floated on here - and more - have been given a pretty close look over the years and most have been found to either not be technically feasible or not cost effective.

BTW piping gas and water are apparently technically very different, so its not valid to compare the two.

I completely agree that Australian cities have got major issues with water supply and sometimes water quality. But we do have to be both realistic and creative when thinking about possible solutions.

Cheers,

Val.
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Reply By: pop2jocem - Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 23:13

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 at 23:13
I agree supplying a never ending increase in any available resource including water should not be the answer to any demand because of an increasing population. Of course we should be looking at ways to reduce our dependence. Unfortunately population stability as desirable as it is, well to me anyway, is IMHO and if you will excuse the pun, a pipe dream.
So what is the answer, in this case to to an increasing demand for water?
Well I still maintain water of as good a quality as we enjoy is way too cheap.
That study about possible solutions quoted the price of gas verses the price of water.
A 9 kg bottle of gas around $30. For that same $30 you could buy 42,000 kg or liters of water. About an average household swimming pool.
At present we are relying on catchment, bores and desalination for our water. Catchment in our geographical location and characteristics may have worked 50 or so years ago but not now. We just can't catch enough and rainfall is becoming more and more unreliable.
Bores, well guess where the water in those bores ultimately came from. Yep, rainfall.
Desalination, should be ok for the "raw material" for a while yet but unfortunately is pretty energy hungry.
So back to square one. We either reduce our consumption or find other ways to satisfy demand. If water from sources such as Lake Argyle is not economically sustainable maybe we need to re-do the maths so that it is.

Just a thought
Pop
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 08:47

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 08:47
Hi Pop,

Given the WA interest in this topic I am surprised that no one has mentioned the wave energy project that is right there in Fremantle. As well as producing electricity, the technology has the added benefit of being able to directly desalinate water. Have a look here.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: landseka - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 06:50

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 06:50
I think the most viable solution to Perth, or any city for that matter, water shortage is recycling!
We send so much water from street run-offs and sewerage out to sea it is staggering.
I know there are those that say "I won't drink recycled water"! What do they think rainfall is? Natural, efficient recycling.
I think the reason we (the planet) is so short of water is due to overpopulation. The human body is some 70% water and there are too many 50kg bags of water walking around now. :-D

Cheers Neil (I'm going back to bed, 3.40am, yuk)
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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 09:06

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 09:06
Everyone seems to be talking about increasing water supplies to areas that are too dry to support more population growth. Well how about we accept that we have reached the population limit and stop growing? Lets face it, those with an economic interest won't be happy until the whole of Oz is turned into a massive feedlot for humans. Personally, I think we have too many here already. It is harder and harder to get away from civilisation into the wilderness, let alone strike a balance between development and open spaces in the population centres. As it is, there is very little accessible bushland in Victoria and NSW. Designated national parks are becoming "no go" areas, and farm fences go right to the road almost everywhere else.
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Follow Up By: mfewster - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 09:37

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 09:37
I totally agree Bob. And you might add the creeping fencing off of water/beach access to your list.
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Reply By: Member -Shakeejob - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 14:46

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 14:46
There a number of aspects to the Ord river pipeline debate that should be addressed.
The first is whether it is ethically correct to take water from a distant region (Kimberley) and transport it to another (Perth) for their sole use.
Secondly, wouldn't it be better as a previous correspondent inferred to move the people to the resource.
Thirdly and most important is to recognise that a number of studies have been done in regard to the proposal, the GHD report of 2004 is perhaps the most recent, all of which have indicated it is not viable.
Some quotes from the GHD report are significant:
"The conclusions from this review are:
 Although technically feasible, the project is highly complex with significant uncertainties related to
aboriginal heritage and environmental approvals.
 The project would consume significant energy (3 times per kL more than desalination) and create
significant greenhouse gas emissions (4.5 times per kL more than desalination).
 The project would create significant ecological impacts particularly relating to the Fitzroy River.
 At a revised estimated cost of not less than $6.10 / kL, the project remains economically unviable in
comparison with other contemporary sources (eg desalination)."
Basically it is not a goer!

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Reply By: Member - Paul B (WA) - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 15:26

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 15:26
Wow! I get busy at work for a day or two and come back to see the tiny pebble I lobbed into the pond has become a veritable tsunami!

I still think the best solution to the water (and many other problems) in our cities is to stop the growth and encourage people to live in places where there is heaps of water, ie across most of the top end, or at least in beautiful places in regional Australia, which may or may not be also on the coast. Our governments are wayyyyy to city-centric, with the possible exception of the WA one courtesy of Royalties for Regions.

Second, on CY O'Connor, something I had never appreciated was that most of the controversy was not around the technical possibilities of the project, but to do with corruption.

For example, originally the pipes were to be imported in two halves, one half slightly smaller than the other such that it would fit inside the other to save shipping costs, but in the end they were manufactured in WA with both halves the same size. This meant that the pipe was a bit bigger so was able to carry a higher head, such that not so many pumps were required and those pumps would be in different locations.

However O'Connor's project manager had already surveyed the townsites around the pumping stations and was corruptly involved in land dealings so constructed an engineering case around the existing plan without revealing his conflict of interest. This was all revealed at the Royal Commission the day before CY O'Connor shot himself and is widely believed by historians to the breaking point for him, having staked his reputation on the integrity of his assistant.

But what a wonderfully interesting thread.
Paul B Kalgoorlie

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Reply By: get outmore - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 19:44

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 19:44
If youve got a day to kill driving to Kalgoorlie , just grab the golden pipleine book and follow the sites.

2 of the better stops are the pump sation museum in Cunderdin and Karralee dam
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Reply By: WBS - Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 20:05

Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 at 20:05
While we're on big ideas, why don't we did a ditch between Spencer Gulf and Lake Eyre via Lake Torrens. It'd be easy. Once the ditch is dug it would be all down hill for the water into Lake Eyre. With the lake full, prevailing winds would pick up the evaporation and drop it as rain on the Western side of the Great Divide. Easy! problem solved.

WBS
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