Nationwide Get together’s North Queensland water scheme would pump $20b down the drain


However as a result of comparatively scant hydrological info obtainable on the time, Bradfield made an important error and overestimated by double the amount of water that may move into his dam.

CSIRO discovered the evaporation fee throughout the huge reservoir within the scorching north Queensland local weather would exceed the annual inflows.

The Bradfield scheme would divert the higher Tully River.Credit score:Tourism Queensland

Bradfield assumed that black soil plans alongside the Torrens Creek, a tributary of the Thompson River upstream of Longreach, can be used to develop irrigated crops with water from his dam. However CSIRO discovered the soil was too saline for agriculture.

These components make Bradfield’s unique scheme unworkable.

However CSIRO needed to search out out if it might make it work with fashionable know-how and the group rejigged the plan to maximise its potential.

CSIRO settled on a 98-metre-high wall at Hells Gate that would create a dam able to delivering, on common, 1880 gigalitres of irrigation water a yr. The CSIRO plan would ship the water into the Thompson River additional downstream than Bradfield’s unique design through a 680-kilometre open channel. It recognized sufficient soil to help probably the most viable crops, which might be 30,000 of irrigated mandarins and 150,000 hectares for cotton.

CSIRO factored in the planting of 150,000 hectares of cotton to maximise the potential of the scheme, but it still failed to justify its building costs.

CSIRO factored within the planting of 150,000 hectares of cotton to maximise the potential of the scheme, but it surely nonetheless did not justify its constructing prices.

CSIRO mentioned its fashionable variation would value at the very least $12 billion “beneath an optimistic set of assumptions” throughout a 100-year mission lifespan and farmers must pay $970 a megalitre for his or her irrigation entitlements to cowl the price of supplying the water.

Final yr irrigators in Victoria and NSW paid about $55 a megalitre on common, and $100 in South Australia.

CSIRO estimated that irrigators counting on the Bradfield scheme would be capable to afford $80 a megalitre at most, which meant the “cashflow of the scheme remained virtually totally adverse” in any situation it modelled.

However CSIRO didn’t restrict its evaluation to the scope of Bradfield’s plan and recognized a good grander scheme in an try to make Bradfield’s imaginative and prescient viable.

Last year, irrigators in NSW paid on average $55 a megalitre for water.

Final yr, irrigators in NSW paid on common $55 a megalitre for water.Credit score:Dominic Lorrimer

CSIRO’s optimised model would additionally use a 98-metre-high dam wall and run an enormous 1600 kilometre open channel all the best way south from the Burdekin River to the northern reaches of the Murray Darling Basin round St George in southern Queensland – largely as a result of that’s the place a brand new irrigation scheme might entry sufficient good soil to make use of all of the obtainable water on crops.

However this model nonetheless wouldn’t be economically viable.

CSIRO discovered that even utilizing “extraordinarily optimistic assumptions” the invoice for the mission can be $21 billion, and the ensuing irrigation scheme would solely generate sufficient farm income to pay again 8 per cent of that invoice.

Increasing irrigation round St George might create 11,000 jobs and enhance the regional financial system by $6 billion – with two huge caveats.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit score:

The horticulture manufacturing within the area must develop to be equal to 30 per cent of
the gross worth of all fruit, vegetable and nuts at the moment produced throughout Australia, which
CSIRO mentioned would take greater than 100 years to attain, if it was even doable, and farmers would have to be gifted their water free of charge.

College of NSW professor Stuart Khan, who was appointed as an advisor to the Nationwide Water Grid earlier than it was disbanded by Barnaby Joyce in March, mentioned CSIRO had approached its evaluation of the Bradfield scheme “very optimistically, very genuinely prepared to spend thousands and thousands of {dollars} on doing a correct appraisal”.

“However even taking a look at every part in probably the most optimistic phrases they nonetheless weren’t in a position to display that the scheme would really make more cash than it could value.

“All that agriculture product can be going to export and that signifies that Australian taxpayers can be subsidising the value of meals in China, Japan, the USA – the assorted locations that we ship meals to – we’d really be paying for his or her lunch.”

Michael McCormack regrets the focus on the bottom line applied to modern water projects.

Michael McCormack regrets the concentrate on the underside line utilized to fashionable water tasks.Credit score:Dominic Lorrimer

The previous Morrison authorities went to the 2022 federal election with a $5.4 billion promise to construct a small model of Bradfield’s Hells Gate on the Burdekin River, however didn’t ship an in depth mission design or an evaluation of its value or viability.

Michael McCormack, who commissioned the CSIRO examine, mentioned it was regrettable that up to date assessments of water storage tasks had been centered on “backside line” assessments.

“If we had this type of imaginative and prescient previously we’d by no means have constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we’d by no means have constructed the Snowy Hydro Scheme,” he mentioned.


CSIRO really helpful authorities examine strategic, smaller water storage in north Queensland.

McCormack agreed with this strategy, arguing the federal government ought to construct the Hells Gate dam and concentrate on rising native irrigation districts.

“It’s not a full-blown Bradfield scheme, however we should always construct Hills Gate and make it possible for we reap the benefits of it.”

Water Minister Tanya Plibersek, who’s accountable for water infrastructure declined to touch upon the way forward for the Hells Gate mission. The Albanese authorities has not dominated out constructing it and is conducting a one-year overview of the mission.

Queensland’s opposition chief Deb Frecklington went to the 2020 state election pledging to defy “doubters and naysayers” and publicly fund the huge infrastructure works the Bradfield scheme wants, and a nervous Labor state authorities commissioned an impartial report to research its viability.

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