A $5 million Commonwealth-funded study into the feasibility of expanding Western Australia’s Ord Irrigation Scheme into the Northern Territory will soon ramp up with both states preparing to undertake tests.

The Northern Territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NTDENR) is preparing to send teams into Ord Stage 3 to test soils and water.

While in Western Australia, work is expected to begin soon on testing the feasibility of raising the height of Lake Argyle’s spillway and distribution of water towards the Northern Territory.

The tests will form part of the study examining the feasibility, economic returns and sustainability of Ord Stage 3, and provide a solid base of evidence to guide future investment decisions.

NTDENR’s director of the land assessment branch, Jason Hill, said, “This will be the first time the NT Government has undertaken a scientific study in the Keep River [area] in 40 years, with the last study published in 1977, so it’s exciting to be going back there.

“So when we get into the field we’ve already got some data, but I guess there are new methods and laboratory testing, plus new technologies available to map more accurately the land and soil resource to improve our understanding of that landscape.

“The end goal will be we develop a map of the area, which highlights areas that are suitable [to irrigation development] and areas that may pose some risk, that may need to be managed or even avoided.”

Mr Hill said the department had been working closely with Geoscience Australia, which had already been in the area collecting electromagnetic information.

Des Yin Foo, from NTDENR’s water assessment branch, said his team would be examining groundwater and above-surface flows of the Keep River region.

“The NT side of this project is to understand the natural resource conditions in order to predict the impact of development for if or when it might proceed,” Mr Foo said. 

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