Australia’s largest artificial lake lies in the north-west corner of the country, providing water that has allowed this ordinarily dry region to become a centre for agriculture.
Lake Argyle receives water from across the Kimberley Plateau, a sandstone region the size of Germany uplifted some two billion years ago by movements in the Earth’s crust.
The Kimberley is characterised by valleys and gorges cut by the rivers that criss-cross the plateau changing the surface over millions of years.
The Ord is one of the major rivers in the Kimberley, which flows north-west for 320 kilometres before discharging into the Timor Sea through the Cambridge Gulf.
With 35 tributaries the Ord River is the largest stream entering the Gulf, and this volume of water has begun to benefit residents of the plateau thanks to a massive engineering project.
The fertile plains of the lower reaches of the Ord had long lured farmers to the East Kimberley, but much of the rest of the region
was too dry to support agriculture.
During the wet season, the Ord is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Australia, but during the dry season much of its length is reduced to puddles and watering holes.
The only way to transform the Kimberley into a year-round agricultural region was to build a dam to harness the vast quantities of water that flow through the river for a few months each year.
The Ord River Dam was completed in 1972 damming enough water to create Lake Argyle, the largest man-made lake in Australia.
With the capacity to contain enough water to fill 22 Sydney Harbours, the water in the lake is used to irrigate the surrounding land during the dry season.
The lake and river have allowed the farming industry in the Kimberley to flourish as year-round irrigation is now a possibility.
The Ord River Dam also provides electricity for the nearby town of Kununurra, a lush and fertile agricultural town that is growing at a steady rate as a farming centre in north Western Australia.