Brackish Rising

Thursday 19 January 2017

Forty percent of Perth’s drinking water comes from the ocean.

You can cook with the saline plants that can be found on sand dunes.

Water tastes different at different times of the day.

These are just some of the things you will discover through Brackish Rising, an on-the-ground investigation into the past, present and future of Perth’s water supply.

Heading this project of discovery are artists, salinity renegades and citizen scientists Loren Kronemeyer and Mike Bianco, who are headed to Kwinana in their mobile research lab to follow our tap water back to the source.

But before they do, we ask them some questions about Brackish Rising.

In a nutshell, what is Brackish Rising?

Brackish Rising considers the future of water sovereignty in Southwest Australia and focuses on the city of Kwinana as a microcosm of the Perth water story. Kwinana is home to a desalination plant, the first of its kind in Australia, a facility which provides nearly 20% of all drinkable water in the Perth metropolitan area. We are making a mobile lab from which we will explore Kwinana and host water-future workshops and tastings that give people a hands-on understanding of water's origins – as well as produce a web series documenting the complexity and absurdity of our water supply.

Why the title Brackish Rising?

‘Brackish’ describes a system that has been affected by salt, as many of the ecosystems in the Perth area increasingly have. As the population of Perth grows beyond the limits of our existing freshwater resources, we have to invent ways to use brackish sources to meet our water needs. Becoming intimate with and embracing these salty environments is now a key adaptation towards continued survival. What was considered unusable is now our hope for the future, hence Brackish Rising.

Why is this project located in Kwinana?

As well as being home to Australia’s first desalination plant, Kwinana is one of Perth’s main industrial centres. Kwinana is also the fastest growing suburb in the Perth area, with a large number of new housing developments, parks, farms, and wetland areas, offering a rich environment from which to consider the ecological future of Western Australia.

What will you be doing in the mobile research laboratory during the three weeks?

Each day we, and the mobile research lab, will be located at different sites related to issues of water production, from beachside dunes to inner wetlands to housing developments perched on top of groundwater sources. We will be interviewing key residents of Kwinana involved in water issues, and publishing these interviews as podcasts and films on our Brackish Rising blog. We will also offer the lab as a space for citizen science research – a place where people can get acquainted with their water and their environment through experimentation and water tastings.

If I attend the water still workshop, will I learn how to make drinkable water from ocean water?

Yes, and more. The water still workshop will demystify water distillation, from distilling water from your catchment, to the basics of how a desalination facility works.

The workshop will demonstrate how anyone can make their own still to purify water from any number of sources, for fun or for the sake of emergency. 

Are saline foods healthy? 

That all depends. One of the workshops we are hosting will teach you how to harvest and cook with drought-tolerant, saline native foods. Saline foods can be very tasty, and as native plants, are naturally adapted to do well in our local environment, putting less of a strain on various water systems. However, saline foods can’t make for an entire diet, and so should only be consumed in moderation and harvested with great respect. 

What kinds of water will be offered at the water tastings?

A number of different kinds of water sampled from all over the Perth/Kwinana area – some of which comes from everyday taps, others that we have distilled. The tasting is inspired by the lore that has formed around the flavour of water in different areas – a flavour that in many cases results from design interventions made for a multitude of reasons at different stages of the water delivery process.

Why did you want to do this project?

As we become increasingly aware of changing climate, water sovereignty has emerged as a global issue, and the Kwinana desalination plant is an important element in that story.

Many drought-prone countries are looking to Kwinana as a model to determine if this form of desalination is a viable alternative. We contemplate our relationship as a species to the non-human world, and seek to share our insights and experiences with the public. Not many citizens think about where their water comes from – many simply turn the tap on and go about their business. But when you tell someone that nearly 40% of all the water they consume comes from the ocean, they begin to wonder how it all works and what it means to turn a body of salt water into our constant source of drinking water.

What do you hope will be the outcomes of this project?

We’re hoping to generate a body of research to help people understand our complex relationship to the future of water, both in this region and globally. We also want to give people access to the system that has been built on their behalf in a way that is playful and informative. Ultimately this is about raising awareness, shedding light on an issue we all depend upon but may not usually consider.

Program Associates: Visual Arts

Written By Felicity Fenner & Anne Loxley

Our dynamic programming duo – Felicity Fenner and Anne Loxley – are always in and out of galleries around the world, collaborating with artists and immersing themselves in a multitude of mediums to bring the world’s most provocative visual art to our shores.

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