The Ord – East Kimberley Expansion Project

Video: Ord Expansion Project.

Before the Ord river was dammed it was the fastest flowing river in Australia.

The Governments have long considered the viability of harnessing the mighty Ord River for irrigation since the 1940’s undertaking extensive agricultural experiments before the Diversion Dam was eventually constructed in 1963, marking the beginning of Phase 1 of the Ord Development Scheme.

The 28 million pound irrigation project was launched in 1963 by Prime Minister Menzies stating Kununurra as ‘the most exciting place in Australia’ due to its agricultural potential and close proximity to Asian markets via the Wyndham port.

The 2nd Phase of the project was completed in 1972 with the construction of the Ord River Dam, creating Lake Argyle, covering an area of 741 square kilometers, as the primary irrigation water storage. The Ord River irrigation scheme could now gravity feed water to 12,000 hectares of farmland in the Ord Valley. Prime Minister William McMahon officially opened the Dam in 1972 stating this marks the beginning of Ord Stage II.

It’s been a long journey, but finally 40 years on the Ord Irrigation Scheme has been expanded with construction of a new irrigation channel that will gravity feed water to a further 13,400 hectares of new land, giving the region the opportunity to unlock its vast agricultural potential and to further develop the regional economy.

In 4 years a 40km irrigation channel has been constructed, plus 40kms of road and 86kms of drainage and flood protection to support the irrigation expansion. This agricultural development has the potential to become one of Australia’s largest northern Irrigation Schemes.

The Ord East Kimberley Expansion project is a collaborative partnership between the Western Australian and Australian Governments.  It includes $195 million of complimentary community and social projects that aim to expand quality of services for East Kimberley residents and visitors.

For the WA Government, this project was more than just roads, channels and farming but also an opportunity to provide alternative futures to Aboriginal people by providing on the job training and creating sustainable jobs in the construction and mining industries.

Conservation was also an important aspect of this development with 7 hectares of conservation area created for every hectare of agricultural development.  The establishment of 6 conservation reserves means the protection of 188,000 hectares of vegetation and fauna habitat in the Kununurra area.

In December 2012 the new main irrigation channel was opened, allowing water to be supplied to more than 30,000 hectares of farmland in the years ahead. The WA Premier, Colin Barnett, and former Regional Development Minister, Brendan Grylls, opened the irrigation infrastructure.

In 2012 The WA Government concluded an extensive request for Proposal and due diligence process that awarded Chinese owned company Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI) the opportunity to lease 12,500 hectares of new land and take the next step to develop new farms and enterprises.

KIA shares the governments’  vision to develop a state of the art farming and integrated processing industry whilst continuing to provide jobs and business opportunities to locals during the construction and operation of this new irrigation area.

In the years to come the WA government believes that the Ord Expansion Project will be remembered as a pivotal turning point in the State’s history demonstrating what can be achieved when Governments, private sector and traditional owners work together.  The next step is to realise the regions full agronomic potential across the border into the Northern Territory.