Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Environmental approval for sustainable agriculture in east Kimberley

Media release
14 September 2011

Environment Minister Tony Burke today approved the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the east Kimberley in Western Australia under national environmental law.

Mr Burke said following a rigorous assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, he had approved the Western Australian Government's expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme on the Weaber Plain with strict conditions to protect matters of national environmental significance.

The Weaber Plain Development Project will expand the Ord irrigation area by making available more than 9000 hectares of additional land for irrigated agriculture and related infrastructure.

The Ord River is a valuable resource for energy, agriculture and tourism in the east Kimberley, and is the source for Australia's second largest dam, Lake Argyle.

The Ord River is currently used to irrigate land producing crops such as chickpeas and sorghum seed as well as melons, pumpkins, mangoes, bananas, citrus, irrigated pasture, sandalwood for export, tropical forests and sugar cane.

The Ord has a capacity of more than 10 million megalitres which is more than five times Sydney's Warragamba Dam.

"While I have considered the significant economic and social benefits of this project, my focus has been on protecting environmental matters of national significance through strict conditions to manage any potential environmental impacts," Mr Burke said.

"The Western Australian Government will be required to comply with these conditions, including consulting with independent experts to develop and implement several management plans to ensure protection of species protected under national environmental law.

"This will include development of a conservation plan for the endangered Gouldian finch including annual monitoring of breeding populations to ensure its population persists well into the future and to ensure that no active breeding habitat for the species is removed.

"To protect threatened sawfish and shark species in the Northern Territory's Keep River, the conditions require careful management of groundwater associated with farm lots, and the discharge of stormwater and groundwater into the river will be closely monitored.

"I am satisfied that sustainable agriculture and threatened species can co-exist provided the strict conditions I have imposed under national environmental law are implemented."