About the Rural Towns Program
The Department of Agriculture, Western Australia's Rural Towns Program, an initiative of the State Salinity Strategy, was established in 1997 to arm communities with the right tools to fight townsite salinity.
The program, which has bi-partisan political support, helps communities with detailed investigations into groundwater conditions and the economic effects of townsite salinity and helps to identify the treatments suitable to each town involved.
Although total elimination is not possible the impact of townsite salinity can be dramatically reduced. This requires co-ordinated action from agricultural landowners, town residents, and local and State Governments.
The Rural Towns Program is run by the Department of Agriculture, Western Australia's 'Natural Resource Management' Program and is supported by a 12-member Management Committee.
The Rural Towns Program now supports key research, development and implementation projects within specific towns through four Regional Catchment Councils.
This includes salinity assessment work such as the Economic Impact Studies, 2001. These studies enabled local communities to assess the economic costs of salinity in their towns and determine the costs and benefits of various management approaches.
The Department of Agriculture estimates that it will cost between $40,000 and $70,000 per town to thoroughly investigate the problem and between $50,000 and many hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases to treat salinity in WA's country towns.
From 2000 to 2004, the Community Boreholes Project, a comprehensive groundwater study undertaken in 37 towns in the Program, cost over $1.5 million and was entirely funded by the Rural Towns Program. In 2005/06 the WA State Government through the Rural Towns Program is investing $700,000 in tackling townsite salinity in WA. Local Government Authorities and communities will contribute one third to half the cost of implementing salinity control measures following the groundwater studies.
If you have any questions about the Rural Towns Program, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
The Rural Towns Program is supported by a 12-member management committee, comprising six members from local government and the rural sector and six government representatives.
The management committee recommends the eligibility of towns for the program, provides advice on best practice for water management, audits the level of compliance with stated actions and maintains a record of results.
The committee includes a technical assessment panel to provide quality assurance in planning approaches, funding applications and implementation.
The Economic Impact Study allows local communities to assess the economic costs of salinity in their towns and enter variables to test the cost of different management approaches.
During 2000, studies to assess the costs of salinity and rising groundwater tables have already been carried out in the towns of Brookton, Corrigin, Cranbrook, Katanning, Merredin and Morawa.
Data for the studies was compiled from a broad range of sources including local governments, past groundwater and economic studies, the Department of Agriculture, government agencies such as Main Roads, Water Corporation and private sector organisations such as Telstra and Co-operative Bulk Handling.
Reports have been produced for each community involved in the pilot study and are available by clicking on the appropriate town name: Brookton, Corrigin, Cranbrook, Katanning, Merredin, Morawa.
The reports show that typically, roads were the infrastructure item most affected by the impact of rising watertables and salinity, representing about two thirds of the total cost in each town. Housing represented about 20 per cent of the total cost, with public buildings, commercial buildings and other infrastructure such as recreation areas representing the remaining 15 per cent.
The reports also outline a number of ways of tackling salinity in country towns, including improved surface water management techniques, pumping to lower the level of groundwater in affected towns, tree planting, and engineering solutions, such as drainage. There are also a number of commercial possibilities that could reduce or offset the cost of rising groundwater, such as desalination, aquaculture and commercial tree growing.
Page last reviewed July 2005
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