[137] Kununurra – Bring the water

‘This is huge,’ is my first thought. As far as I can see, the lake spreads out between the mountains. This is the biggest manmade lake of Australia, the beginning of a complex and high-valuable flow of water through The Kimberley. This is the Lake Argyle.


As described in my post on the cattle station, this area is extreme dry. Without decent irrigation projects, any kind of agriculture, except from cattle, would be impossible. Especially since the River Ord, one of the fastest flowing rivers in Australia during the wet season, is normally reduced to some waterholes during dry season.

Damming the Ord, Creating a Town

To maintain agriculture year-round, the damming of the Ord was considered necessary. As such the dam would be able to catch 2,500 gigalitres of water that otherwise would flow into the ocean per day during wet season, which is considered as enough water to supply Perth for 10 years.

Hence, the Ord Irrigation Scheme was a fact, moreover with the grant from the Comonwealth Government in 1959. The first dam, the Kununurra Diversion Dam across the Ord River was completed in 1963. As a side effect, the town of Kununurra was created as well, initially as service centre for the OIS, yet nowadays it is a fully developed town.


One of the biggest backsides of the dams – the blockage of sediments and nutrients – is coped by letting the flood gates open after the first flooding, so mud and debris could flow through.

Damming the Ord, Creating a Lake

After the dam in Kununurra, the project continued with the creation of the Ord River Dam (completed in 1972) which created a major water reservoir, the Lake Argyle. The project became the largest capacity Dam in Australia, holding 5,641 giglitres – or about 11,2 the water of the Sydney Harbour. Moreover, it is even one of the largest man made water reservoirs in the world.

Yet, the creation of the Ord River Dam did not endangered the Lake Kununurra, but ensured its water level as well, so it could provide water to the Ivanhoe Plain.

Damming the Ord, Creating electricity

In addition to be the beginning of the entire water chain over the Kimberley area, the Ord River Dam provides electricity as well. In the 1990s a hhydroelectric power station was built at the base of the Main Ord Dam. Yet, therefore they needed more water to be in the lake.

So said, so done, and the storage capacity was increased by 6 metres by building a weir across the spillway. As a result, the capacity of the Lake Argyle almost doubled, up to 10,763 giglitres or about 21 the Sydney Harbour.

The Ord Hydro Power plant is designed to produce more than 220 gigawatt hours of electricyt per year, and supplies now electricity to the surrounding towns of Wyndham, Kununurra and the Argyle Diamond Mine.


Damming the Ord, Creating Agriculture

In 2004, the entire region contains above 80 Ord River farms, covering an area of more than 11,70 hectares, producing various different crops from melons and pumpkins over cotton and sugar cane to bananas and mangoes. Yet, in 2009, the capacity of farmland was given the permission to expend, from 12,500 hectares possibly up to 45,000 hectares.

In 2004 for instance, the overall value of agricultural production in the Ord was about $46.4 million.

The depending farmers united themselves in the Ord Irrigation Cooperative in the 1990s, which have taken over the irrigation assets, operations and maintenance of (1) 360 km of channels, drains, water control structures and bridges, managing the water distribution of the water for Lake Kununurra to each farm supply point.


Damming the Ord, Creating Tourism

The Ord Irrigation Scheme has not only brough water and electricity to the Kimberly, but tourism as well. The unique developed ecosystem and year-round waterways are the perfect attraction for tourists. For instance, there are not only fresh water crocodiles, fish and wallabies around, but as well more than 240 species of birds, which is about almost one third of Australia’s total known species.


I invite you to follow the flow of the water on my vlog, and enjoy not only the engineered aspect of the lake, but the beautiful scenery as well.

Net blog I’ll show you around another lake, one with suspicious blue water…

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