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National Water Account 2019

Ord: Geographic information

  • The Ord River is one of the more significant waterways in northern Australia.
  • Lake Argyle, a Ramsar-listed wetland of international importance, supports irrigated agriculture and hydroelectric generation in the region.
  • Groundwater is also an important water source for mining purposes and town supply.

Ord region map. Water use: 1.1% of Australia’s water use. Land use: 80% of the region used for grazing. Ecosystems: 2 Ramsar wetlands with strong cultural significance. Water resources: 98% sourced from surface water.

For further geographic information about the region scroll down this page or click on the links below:


General description

Area: 65,800 km²
Population: 9,000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] 2016)


Map of water catchments and conservation areas. Keep River catchment in the northeast and Ord River catchment in the remainder of the region. Purnululu National Park is in the central southern part of the region. Keep River National Park is in the northeast. Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve is in the northwest. Figure R1 Contextual map of the Ord region


  • The Ord region is located in the East Kimberley region of Australia; the region overlaps the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
  • The boundary of the Ord region is physically defined by two surface water catchments: the Ord River and the Keep River.
  • About 1.1% of Australia's water use occurs in the region. Most of the water use is from surface water for irrigation purposes.


Land use

Map showing distribution and land use types. Major towns include Wyndham, Kununurra and Halls Creek. Primary land use is grazing followed by conservation and natural environments.
Figure R2 Land use in the Ord region


  • Kununurra is the regional centre; other towns include Halls Creek and Wyndham.
  • Almost 80% of the region is used for pastoral grazing; about 20% of the region contains conservation areas, including national parks.
  • 0.2% of the region contains irrigated agriculture, mainly in the Ord River Irrigation Area downstream of Lake Argyle. The major crops are sandalwood, mahogany, and a range of horticultural crops and grains.
  • Mining areas make up 0.1% of the region and include Argyle Diamond Mine situated near Lake Argyle and nickel mining operations approximately 120 km north of Halls Creek.


Significant aquatic ecosystems

Map of Ramsar wetlands and nationally important wetlands. Nationally important wetlands are distributed on the north coastal plains and central parts of the region. The 2 Ramsar-listed wetlands are Lakes Argyle and Kununurra in the central north and Ord River Floodplain in the northwest. Other nationally important wetlands are the Ord Estuary System, Parry Floodplain and Legune Wetlands.
Figure R3 Significant wetlands in the Ord region


  • The region contains several significant aquatic ecosystems, including Ramsar-listed wetlands.
  • The Ord River and associated aquatic ecosystems have a strong cultural significance for a number of Aboriginal groups, particularly the Miriuwung and Gajerrong peoples (Barber and Rumley 2003).


Water resources

  • Surface water resources support the main water users in the region, including irrigated agriculture, hydroelectric power generation, and self-supply licensees. Groundwater resources are primarily used for mine purposes and town supply.


Surface water


Map of 4 major water storages. Lake Argyle in the centre is the largest, capacity approximately 10,756,000 ML. Lake Kununnurra is about 20 km downstream of Lake Argyle, capacity approximately 100,800 ML. Arthur Creek is in the central west, capacity 65,000 ML. Moochalabra is 20 km upstream of Wyndham on the northwest coast, capacity approximately 2,000 ML.
Figure R4 Major storages in the Ord region; capacity of each storage is also shown


  • Lake Argyle is one of Australia's larger reservoirs. Water is released from the lake for hydroelectric power generation, and the resulting flows are used to supply downstream users and meet environmental water provisions in the lower Ord River.
  • Most of the inflow into Lake Kununurra comes from water released from Lake Argyle. Lake Kununurra is primarily used to supply water to the Ord River Irrigation Area (see Irrigation scheme).
  • Arthur Creek is a large private storage used for self-supply irrigation; Moochalabra is used for Wyndham's town water supply.



  • The Ord River, downstream of Lake Argyle, is regulated by releases of water from Lake Argyle to maintain flows in the lower Ord River. Self-supply licensees access the river for small-scale irrigation, industrial, commercial, and stock and domestic purposes.
  • The upper Ord and Negri rivers are two primary rivers that flow into Lake Argyle. Limited diversions for consumptive use occurs in these catchment areas.


Map of key gauging stations. In the southeast upstream of Lake Argyle are Ord River at Old Ord Homestead, station ID 809316, and Negri River at Mistake Creek Homestead, station ID 809315. Ord River at Tarrara Bar, station ID 809339, is downstream of Lake Argyle in the north.
Figure R5 Key flow gauging stations along the main rivers within the Ord region


Graph of mean monthly flows along the Ord (upper and lower) and Negri rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Ord region
Figure R6 Mean monthly flows along the Ord (upper and lower) and Negri rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Ord region


  • Seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the Ord region reflect the annual rainfall pattern of the region. Most of the rainfall occurs during the wet season (November–April). Consequently, most of the streamflow within the region occurs between January and May.
  • Upstream of Lake Argyle, flows are very low or cease to flow during the dry season (May–October). The Ord River below Lake Argyle receives specific releases to maintain minimum environmental flows in the lower Ord River. Consequently, flow in the lower Ord River is perennial.
  • Other rivers in the Ord region exhibit seasonal flow patterns similar to rivers upstream of Lake Argyle.



  • Groundwater resources in the region are not extensively developed.
  • Borefields in localised fractured rock aquifers are used for urban supply to Halls Creek and mining operations in the upper reaches of the Ord region.
  • Sedimentary aquifers adjacent to Lake Kununurra are used to supply the town of Kununurra.


Water systems

Irrigation scheme

Map of three irrigation districts in the Ord River Irrigation Area. Ivanhoe Plain and Goomig Farmlands, north of Kununurra on the eastern side of the Ord River, and the Packsaddle Plain, south of Kununurra on the western side of the Ord River.
Figure R7 Ord River Irrigation Area


  • The Ord River Irrigation Area comprises an open canal network that is used to distribute water for irrigated agriculture.
  • Water supplied to the Ord River Irrigation Area represents more than 90% of the total surface water entitlements in the region.
  • Water is diverted from the Ord River at Lake Kununurra. Most of the irrigation water is diverted via the M1 supply channel to the Ivanhoe Plain and Goomig Farmlands; less than 10% is diverted to the Packsaddle Plain (Department of Water 2013)
  • Areas of proposed irrigation expansion within the Ord region are described in Major water reforms in 'Climate and water'.