Why is Water Corporation remediating the catchment?

Water Corporation has purchased a number of sites in Walpole over the past decade for revegetation with the aim of protecting water quality for the long-term.

Revegetation is a preferable land use to intensive livestock grazing as it reduces nutrients in the waterways (from fertiliser and manure), and minimises the risk of bacterial contamination in waterways and water supplies.

In Walpole, the Water Corporation has entered a sharefarming agreement with ManukaLife to revegetate several areas of Water Corporation owned land. Initially, revegetation of 50 hectares of the land will be with tea trees for future Manuka honey production. It is yet to be decided how the remaining 170 hectares of land will be revegetated.

What are Tea Trees?

The tea tree shrubs will include native and others types that are common in Western Australia. They are all well-suited to future production of Manuka honey.

There are multiple species and multiple varieties within the species. They are deep rooted perennials and are classified as a broad acre crop.

The structural make-up of the tea tree shrub, with its complex root base, is beneficial to water courses since it naturally filters water and assists in preventing erosion.     

Some of the species of tea tree that will be planted have been developed by the Kings Park Botanical Gardens. They have been approved for planting by the Federal government, and have been sold in nurseries across WA for more than 30 years.

The shrubs have also been planted in areas such as the Shire of Murray, Harvey, Albany and Manjimup.

These tea tree shrubs are produced naturally, with no Genetic Modification (GM).

How has the project changed in scope?

After pausing the project in 2018 to incorporate community feedback and await drier weather conditions, Water Corporation is now undertaking a staged approach to the sharefarming project, which will initially involve the revegetation of a much smaller portion of the public drinking water source area (PDWSA), plus an area outside this Zone. North Walpole Road is not currently included.

This modified project scope reduces the area being planted from 220 to 50 hectares, with just 10 hectares within the Drinking Water Catchment Protection Zone. See map in the documents library. 

What environmental approvals has the project sought?

While ManukaLife was not obligated to seek approval from the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) the project was referred in February 2019 in response to community feedback. 

The referral specifically addressed matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC), including threatened species of black cockatoos.  As part of this referral, ManukaLife assessed potential impacts to MNES and outlined management and control measures.

The assessment process included a period for stakeholders and members of the public to comment on the proposal. 

During this time, Water Corporation and ManukaLife pledged to suspend planting until the assessment was completed.

The outcome of the assessment process was confirmed by DoEE on 6 June 2019, with the project confirmed as a non-controlled action, allowing the project to proceed.

What are the environmental benefits of this project?

Two thirds of food produced requires bees. Increasing bee populations, at a time when they are dwindling worldwide, will have a positive impact on Australian agri-business by improving pollination services and increasing opportunities for apiarists to build healthy bee colonies and businesses.

As opposed to traditional farming arrangements, this crop has a minimal environmental footprint. There is little use of heavy machinery and minimal spraying due to the sensitivity of the end product.

The project will provide an environmental benefit to the Walpole area by providing additional vegetation in the catchment, and reducing the nutrient impacts of cattle grazing.

The trees will provide habitat for native species (bandicoots and smaller marsupials) as well as nectar-eating birds.

The trees are not heavy feeders and they do not require large amounts of water to grow. They also sequester carbon from the atmosphere – doing their bit to mitigate climate change.

What are the measures of success for this project?

The primary measure of success for this project is the recovery of the land from intensive agriculture to improve water quality. 

As a secondary benefit, the tea tree shrubs have the potential to produce Manuka honey, tea tree oil and other possible value-add outputs.

What are the economic benefits of this project?

There will be increased opportunities for beekeepers in the region to work with ManukaLife.

There will be local employment opportunities for seasonal and ongoing work such as land preparation, planting, pruning and ongoing plant and land management.

For example a targeted 4000Ha of Manuka under cultivation over 5 years could create an estimated 250 to 300 jobs.

How are you managing the trees and what chemicals are you using?

Tree planting for the first phase will be reduced from 220 to 50 hectares in total, which means less herbicide use and fewer bees. 

For those areas that are being planted, the tea tree crop will require significantly less weed control products than other forms of intensive agriculture. 

For areas within the PDWSA, the Department of Health has approved a single hand-held application of herbicide containing glyphosate to be applied before the trees are planted and under strict conditions to ensure the protection of water quality.

Water Corporation is aware of the renewed concerns regarding the use of glyphosate and is guided by federal regulatory advice from both the Department of Health and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in relation to its use and application.

We will continue to monitor the situation and until such a time that alternative advice is provided by the relevant Federal Government agencies we will continue using glyphosate for weed control, in accordance with best practice and safety procedures.

How are the bees managed and where do they come from?

ManukaLife does not own bee hives. It engages professional beekeepers to provide this service, similar to, and potentially including those, which currently operate in Walpole.

The professional beekeepers will bring their own hives with them to Walpole for the purposes of producing Manuka honey. Once the tea trees have finished flowering (approximately four months in a year), the bee keepers will take their hives (and bees) away to pursue other nectar sources.

Beekeepers manage their hives by ensuring there is a guaranteed nectar source nearby, which holds the right amount of nectar for the size of the hive.

Swarming occurs when there is an oversupply of food/nectar. This is less likely to happen with the right number of bees so beekeepers control that balance. This balance is integral to the health of the hive, and to sustaining the beekeepers’ business.

Will Water Corporation monitor the effects of the project?

Water Corporation will work with ManukaLife and with relevant agencies to ensure there are no adverse impacts on native fauna and flora.

We anticipate that this will include environmental monitoring such as reporting hives that swarm.

Management of the land will include good biosecurity practices consistent with other farm land operations in the Walpole area and will not pose any greater threat to the environment.

Supplying safe drinking water is our highest priority and we will continue regular water quality monitoring to ensure all Australian Drinking Water Guidelines are met.