Australia looks to bag West Coast's water

Water-poor Australia has been eyeing up the rushing rivers of the West Coast as a saviour in its battle against drought.

With climate change threatening to make the already dry continent even drier and multibillion-dollar desalination plants planned to turn seawater into fresh water, some Australians are looking across the Tasman for a cheaper, reliable source of water.

Sydney-based company MH Waters wants to use ocean-going tugs to drag huge bags full of Kiwi water to the eastern states of Australia.

Director Hunter Page said the technology to transport water from environmentally sustainable sources using what were called "medusa bags" was well-advanced.

The largest bags, made from industrial polyester, are 670m long, 160m wide and about 20m deep, and can hold 1.5 billion litres of water.

Page said the company had been talking to a group of West Coasters about taking water from Jackson Bay in South Westland and shipping it to Melbourne.

"We got to the point where we were able to work out what it would cost to get the water from there. It stacked up as being less than a quarter of the cost of desalination," he said.

The set-up cost for the proposal was in the low hundreds of millions of dollars range, compared with up to $A2 billion ($NZ2.3b) for a desalination plant.

The Victoria Government had been interested in the plan but "went cold" on it a few months ago, he said.

Okuru Enterprises has been working on exporting West Coast water since 1991.

Chairman Peter Roselli, of Westport, confirmed there had been talks with MH Waters to supply water for use in Australia.

Okuru held resource consents from the West Coast Regional Council to draw millions of tonnes of water a year from Tuning Fork Creek, a tributary of the Arawhata River.

The water would be pumped through an underwater pipeline to a point 5.5km offshore in Jackson Bay where ships could berth.

No water had been exported yet, but it was just a matter of time, Roselli said.

"If there is someone out there in the wide world that would like big quantities of world-class water, they've just got to get hold of us. All we're doing is completely environmentally friendly," he said.

Page said Lake Hauroko and Doubtful Sound had also been considered as potential sites from which to export water, but the environmental sensitivities of those areas made them less desirable.

The idea of using massive bags for transportation was initiated in the 1930s by British scientist Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bombs used by the Royal Air Force in the Dambusters raid on the Ruhr in Germany in 1943.


The Press