Lake Argyle

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For the state park in Illinois, USA, see Argyle Lake State Park.
Lake Argyle
Lake argyle.jpg
from space, August 1985. The main channel of the Ord River (dark, meandering feature) north of the lake is visible as it drains northward, eventually emptying into the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. Low, folded mountains can be identified east and west of this river valley.
Location Western Australia
Coordinates 16°07′22″S 128°44′31″E / 16.1227°S 128.742°E / -16.1227; 128.742Coordinates: 16°07′22″S 128°44′31″E / 16.1227°S 128.742°E / -16.1227; 128.742
Primary inflows Ord River, Bow River
Primary outflows Ord River
Catchment area 46,100 km2
Basin countries Australia
Surface area 703 km2
Water volume 10,763,000 ML[1]
References [1]

Lake Argyle is Western Australia's largest and Australia's second largest[2] artificial lake by volume. It is part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and is located near the East Kimberley (Western Australia) town of Kununurra. The lake flooded large parts of the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley on the Kimberley Plateau about eighty kilometres inland from the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, close to the border with the Northern Territory.

The primary inflow is the Ord River, while the Bow River and many other smaller creeks also flow into the dam. The lake is a DIWA-listed wetland.[3] as it is the largest lake in northern Australia and an excellent example of a man-made lake. Additionally Lake Argyle, along with Lake Kununurra, are recognised as a Ramsar protected wetlands and were listed in 1990 as Australian Site Number 32.[4]

History and construction[edit]

The construction of the Ord River Dam was completed in 1971 by the American Dravo Corporation.[5] The dam was officially opened the following year. The dam is 335 metres long, and 98  metres high. The earth-fill only dam wall at Lake Argyle is the most efficient dam in Australia in terms of the ratio of the size of the dam wall to the amount of water stored. The lake was named after the property it partly submerged, Argyle Downs.[5]

In 1996, the spillway wall was raised by 6 metres, which doubled the dam's capacity.[6] Sediment flowing into the dam caused concerns in the mid-1990s that the dam's capacity could be dramatically reduced. By 2006 continual regeneration of the upper Ord catchment appeared to have reduced the amount of sediment inflow.[7]

Water supply[edit]

Dam wall

Lake Argyle normally has a surface area of about 1,000 square kilometres. The storage capacity, to the top of the spillway is 10,763,000 megalitres. The lake filled to capacity in 1973, and the spillway flowed until 1984.[citation needed] Lake Argyle's usual storage volume is 5,797,000 megalitres,[8] making it the largest reservoir in Australia. The combined Lake Gordon/Lake Pedder system in Tasmania is larger but is two dams connected by a canal. At maximum flood level, the lake would hold 35 million megalitres of water and cover a surface area of 2,072 square kilometres.[5]

View from downstream viewing the Ord River after it leaves Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle, together with Lake Kununurra, is part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. There are currently some 150 square kilometres of farmland under irrigation in the East Kimberly region. The original plan was for dam water to irrigate rice crop for export to China.[5] However these plans were scuttled as waterfowl, particularly magpie geese ate rice shoots quicker than they could be planted. Other crops are now grown, but Lake Argyle still remains Australia's most under-utilized lake.[5]

Flora and fauna[edit]

The damming of the Ord River has caused major changes to the environment.[citation needed] Flows to the Ord River have been severely reduced. Within Lake Argyle itself a thriving new eco-system has developed. The lake is recognised as an important wetland area under the Ramsar Convention; with Lake Kununurra it forms the Lakes Argyle and Kununurra Ramsar Site.[9]

The lake is now home to 26 species of native fish and a population of freshwater crocodiles currently estimated at some 25,000.[10] Fish species that are present in Lake Argyle include barramundi, southern saratoga, archer fish, forktail cat fish, mouth almighty, long tom, bony bream and sleepy cod.[5] While the official website states that only incidentally a saltwater crocodile is found,[11] other experts disagree.[12]

Cane toads reached the dam in late 2008, mostly via traveling along the Victoria Highway, with numbers rising significantly during the 2009 summer.[9]


The lake, with its surrounding mudflats and grasslands, has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports about 150,000 waterbirds. Birds for which the lake has global importance include magpie geese, wandering whistling-ducks, green pygmy-geese, Pacific black ducks, hardheads, black-necked storks, Australian bustards, white-headed stilts, red-capped plovers, Oriental plovers, black-fronted dotterels, long-toed stints and sharp-tailed sandpipers.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b WA - Water Corporation
  2. ^ "Largest Waterbodies". Geoscience Australia. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "Search for a Nationally Important Wetland". 2010. Retrieved 6 June 2010. 
  4. ^ "Australian Ramsar Sites - Lake Argyle and Kununurra". 2010. Retrieved 6 June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Harrison, Rod; Ernie James; Chris Sully; Bill Classon; Joy Eckermann (2008). Queensland Dams. Bayswater, Victoria: Australian Fishing Network. pp. 60—61. ISBN 978-1-86513-134-4. 
  6. ^ Mark Willacy (12 November 2006). "Fears for second stage of Ord Irrigation Scheme". Landline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 May 2009. 
  7. ^ "Dept hopes sediment flow into Lake Argyle will decrease". ABC News online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 11 December 2006. Retrieved 15 May 2009. 
  8. ^ Australian Govt. Pub. Service Ord River Irrigation Area review. a joint Commonwealth and Western Australian review. 1979
  9. ^ a b Narelle Towie (11 May 2009). "Cane toads thrive in Lake Argyle". PerthNow. The Sunday Times. Retrieved 15 May 2009. 
  10. ^ Claudia Bertorello-Kell (3 June 2007). "Argyle racers shrug off crocs". PerthNow. The Sunday Times. Retrieved 15 May 2009. 
  11. ^ "Freshwater Crocodiles (Crocodyllus Johnstoni)". Lake Argyle. Retrieved 31 March 2010. 
  12. ^ Bennett, Michael (27 March 2010). "Fatal crocodile attack 'inevitable'". The West Australian. Retrieved 31 March 2010. 
  13. ^ "IBA: Lake Argyle". Birdata. Birds Australia. Retrieved 2011-07-18.