Western Australia’s environmental watchdog has approved Rio Tinto’s plans to use excess mine water to grow grazing crops for its little-known cattle operations in the Pilbara.
The plans involve using up to 30 billion litres of water pumped from Rio’s Marandoo iron ore mine near Tom Price.
Tousands of hectares of Pilbara desert will be turned into intensive cropping land under the move, cultivating crops such as Rhodes grass and forage oats.
According to The West Australian, the crops will then be on-sold to Hamersley Station, one of five stations managed by the global miner.
The pastoral industry was welcomed the plans, and said they could be part of a wider move to open up further agriculture in the region.
The WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association CEO Ian Randles told The West Australian there was much potential to make better use of excess mine water.
"A lot of this water is basically being sent to waste and there is a body of feeling among a number of different people that mine dewatering offers an opportunity for agriculture up there," he said.
Rio Tinto said the plans made environmental and economic sense, and would allow the company’s pastoral stations to operate more productively.
While it gave its support, the Environmental Protection Authority said risks of spreading weeds and contaminated water would have to be managed properly.