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A new route for watering the Murray-Darling Basin from Queensland

Here is an alternative route for an aqueduct into the Murray-Darling basin developed by Jason Hall. This follows the route from the Herbert and Hells Gate down near Charters Towers to Lake Galilee, where it branches to the Mitchell Grass Downs and heads south to Barcaldine, Blackall and Wadsworth, the scheme low point at 200m AHD. It then branches via a pipeline to Charleville and further south via the Bulloo River valley.

Jason indicates that the entire scheme has an average fall of 20m every 100k (ideal 1:5000) with only a 50km pipeline into the St George area (if there was enough demand). The aqueduct would be capable of delivering 2000GL per annum, but more would be available depending on seasonal supply factors and other catchment intakes.

Thanks, Jason!

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Increasing cotton production in Australia with an inland aqueduct to Bourke and St George

This nifty poster from Cotton Australia is annotated with the new and existing cotton production areas that would potentially benefit from the Bradfield Scheme.

In the Northern Murray-Darling Basin, cotton is grown mostly in the south in the Darling Downs, St George, through to Bourke and Walgett.  It is worth noting that many areas have seen no production this season due to drought.

The controversial water buybacks in the Condamine-Balonne catchment took place in the St George region. The purchase of almost 30 gigalitres of water was to secure significant environmental benefits for the Lower Balonne, including the Culgoa and the Narran Lakes — a Ramsar-listed wetland of international importance.

Cotton growing areas around Bourke and St George could benefit from additional supply via a Bradfield Scheme, and potential new areas of production around Charters Towers, Muttaburra and Aramac could be opened up to cotton production.

In terms of production, Australian cotton is of consistently high quality, almost zero contamination and offers short shipping times from Australia’s ports to Asian markets. Australia is the world’s second largest exporter of cotton earning valuable foreign currency. Unlike perishable horticultural crops, cotton is primarily an exported commodity and increased production easily absorbed by the massive world market.

Cotton growers are uniquely positioned to prove the viability of a Bradfield Scheme, as Australian irrigated cotton growers utilize the latest CSIRO agronomic research and development to produce the world highest yields per hectare, have a mature trading market, and efficient production due to massive industrial scale.

The elements of the proposed Bradfield Scheme from Northern Queensland to the Murray-Darling Basin are as follows (elevations also indicated):

  • Blue dots – major Bradfield components
  • Red dots – new irrigation areas
  • Light blue lines – approximate routes of gravity-fed aqueducts
  • Orange line – pumped section

The main water sources are flood flows stored at Hells Gate Dam on the Burdekin River, with potential for more supply from further north on the Herbert and Tully Rivers.

The new irrigation area in the Charters Towers area (red dot) is supplied with water from the aqueduct (light blue line).

Water is stored on the Great Dividing Range low point at 300m at Lake Galilee.

From Lake Galilee water is transported by aqueduct to a new irrigation area in the Mitchell Downs in the vicinity of Muttaburra and Aramac. A second aqueduct transports water to storage at Blackall at elevation 250m.

From Blackall water can be pumped over the Great Dividing Range (using solar power) at elevation 320m and conveyed via gravitational aqueduct to Charleville at 300m and St George at 240m. Now in the Murray-Darling Catchment, the water could be used for environmental purposes and sold on to irrigators.

A second gravitational aqueduct could convey water through the Bulloo River catchment to the cotton production areas around Bourke at 110m.

Hat tip to Jason for the proposed route to Bourke and St George.

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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme


What are the economics? Constriction cost per ML storage. Cost per ML provided. Cost of construction. Breakdown by stage. Potential revenues by crops and water efficiency

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Preliminary estimates of the cost of stages and returns of the New Bradfield Scheme

The comparative internal rate of return for the scheme including the supply of North Queensland flood water to the Murray -Darling Basin is between 5-10%, based on capital expenditure of $12.75 billion dollars, and annual agricultural revenue between $2 and $4 billion. Revenue from the supply of water for mines and towns and hydropower generation is not included.

The stages of the plan are shown as stage 1 (red), 2 (orange), 3 (yellow) and 4 (green). The figures below are very approximate and may change over time as estimates become more precise (Note 1). The cost of the main stages are as follows (Note 2):

  1. Burdekin River Irrigation Area Mt Foxton to the Flinders Hwy. This stage captures flood flows and provides gravity-feed irrigation to 50,000ha north of Charters Towers.
    125km of 11m aqueduct ($1.25B), 75m weir ($0.5B) TOTAL $1.75B (Note 3)
  2. Lake Galilee Basin Supply Flinders Hwy to Lake Galilee. This stage transfers flood flows to Lake Galilee Storage on the Great Dividing Range and supplies the Galilee pipeline to 5 mines in the Galilee Basin.
    250km of 11m aqueduct ($2.5B), 20m storage ($0.5B) TOTAL $3B,
  3. Aramac/Muttaburra/Longreach Irrigation Area. Lake Galilee to Longreach. This stage is one arm of western Mitchell Grass Downs distributor providing 50,000ha of new gravity-fed irrigation area. 200km of 5m HDPE lined aqueduct and local storage ($2B)
  4. Murray Darling Basin. Lake Galilee to St George. This stage conveys water from the Lake Galilee Storage to the cotton growing regions around St George. 600km of 5m HDPE lined aqueduct and short pumped pipeline ($6B)

These first four stages could provide the water for the three new irrigation areas of approximately 50,000ha each – 150,000ha and five new coal mines in the Galilee Basin. This would require 1500GL of water pa based on efficiencies of 10ML per hectare of the irrigated crop, plus an additional 500GL for mine and other usage, losses, and environmental flows. Based on stream monitoring records a weir at the Mt Foxton site could provide in excess of 2000GL per annum, enough for the scheme and additional regular stream flow (Note 4).

With an expected return on the crops of between $6,000 and $25,000 per ha, this would produce a total output of between $1B and $4B per annum. As the water is gravity fed the operational costs are very low (Note 5). At a water cost of $50ML, the water purchases would be $7.5M pa. The following is based on economic modeling done for the Burdekin River Irrigation Scheme scaled up x3.


  • $12.75 billion dollars.
  • $8.1 billion contributions to GRP
  • $2.4 billion in household income
  • 25,000 FTE jobs


  • $1-5 billion in total output
  • $2.4 billion in contributions to GRP
  • $0.75 billion in household income
  • 15,000 FTE jobs

IRR between 5% and 10%


  1. Each stage produces additional revenue so that the costs of the scheme are not entirely front-loaded but could potentially be progressed in a self-funded manner.
  2. Cost of the aqueduct is assumed at $1million per km. Costs for dams are guesses only. Resumption costs included.
  3. This is half the estimate for the similar Upper Burdekin River Irrigation Scheme proposed by SMEC due to the absence of hydropower, lower weir, and relocation of road infrastructure on Gregory Development Road (-$0.69B). The water would be gravity-fed from the aqueduct delivering water at a considerably lower cost.
  4. Additional stages of the scheme could supply an additional 2000GL of water from the Herbert and Tully Rivers into the Mt Foxton weir.
  5. Expected revenue for the generation of hydropower, mine, and town water usage and forestry will be calculated in a later post.

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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

Adani Mine Could Help Fund the Lake Buchanan Storage and Aqueduct

It’s so much fun thinking about the New Bradfield Scheme, as it raises as many solutions as it does problems. Water, for a drought-prone nation like ours, is a precious resource. The Adani Coal Mine between Clermont and Charters Towers has been the subject of numerous water-based objections by the Greens, for example:

The mines current water licence allows the mining giant unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years.

One of the world’s last unspoiled desert oases at Doongmabulla Springs could permanently dry up under Adani’s plan to use billions of litres of groundwater.

A plan to use another 10 GigaL per year of water for its mine out of the Suttor River through a new, 61km pipeline in addition to their current water licence.

Less that 60km away lies a component of the New Bradfield Scheme, the Lake Buchanan salt lake (see image), with the potential for 14,440 GL of storage. The idea is that Lake Buchanan storage (once linked up the the infeed from the Hell’s Gate Dam flood flows, which in turn obtains a continuous infeed from the Tully River) could provide Adani Mine with the water it needs for the same price without compromising natural surface flows. Gravity feed is possible as Lake Buchanan elevation is at 300m and Adani mine is 240m. This is a win-win.

The dam and aqueduct developed by Adani could in turn be extended further into the Galilee Coal Basin to supply new mines such as the Hancock PL mine at Alpha.

It remains to be determined if the aqueduct could be extended via gravity feed to existing mines in the Bowen Basin in the east due to elevation limitations, much of which is around 300m. Nevertheless, the New Bradfield Scheme could potentially find customers in new and existing coal mines, who would help to finance the capital costs of development while subsidising the agricultural users en route, and protecting the natural surface and ground water.

At the end of the mines’ life, Australia would have a permanent water infrastructure based around a renewable resource, water, in exchange for the extraction of the limited resource, coal.

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Will the Bradfield Scheme benefit the Great Barrier Reef?

A recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution journal provides support for better control over flood flows such as would be captured by the New Bradfield Scheme and redirected to storage dams inland. Flood flows carry debris, sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants into the coastal regions – and add further stress to the Great Barrier Reef. Improving local water quality may help some reefs better withstand the bleaching impacts of climate change.

Using a composite water quality index, we find that while reefs exposed to poor water quality are more resistant to coral bleaching, they recover from disturbance more slowly and are more susceptible to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and coral disease—with a net negative impact on recovery and long-term hard coral cover. 

See Dirty water biggest risk to reef recovery in the Australian.

Water quality mediates resilience on the Great Barrier Reef

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The benefit to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon by redirecting flood water inland

Estimates of river pollutant loads to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon indicate the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments contribute at least 70 per cent of the anthropogenic total suspended solids load to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, with grazing lands (gully and hillslope erosion) (45 per cent) and streambank erosion (39 per cent) the main sources.

The same report states that compared to pre-European conditions, mean-annual river loads to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon have increased; 3.2 to 5.5-fold for total suspended solids; two to 5.7-fold for total nitrogen; and 2.5 to 8.9-fold for total phosphorus. The total pesticide load to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon is likely to be considerably larger, given that a total of 34 pesticides have already been detected in the Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Flood water in rivers contains much higher ‘total suspended solids,’ or volume of other debris materials (like soil, plant material, dust, and other particulate material) than normal flow conditions. For example, the transitory TSS for an Adani infringement notice due to a controlled release in high rains at a monitoring point was 58 mg/L when the maximum limit of total suspended solids allowed in a flood water release under the Port’s Environmental Authority is 30 mg/L. But this is a fraction of the levels usually found in natural flood events.

The research shows that the dominant sediment supply to many rivers in the Great Barrier Reef catchment is from a combination of gully and streambank erosion, and subsoil erosion from hillslope rilling.

The cumulative effects of flooding of Queensland Rives may have reduced coral growth by 50%. A Bradfield Scheme would reduce total flows by capturing some of the flood water and redirecting inland to provide irrigation, town and mine water supplies. The capture and redirection of flood water would reduce the overall sediment discharge and potentially help to maintain the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

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A safer alternative to the Adani Mine Groundwater Plan

The approval of the massive Adani (Carmichael Coal) Mine has been delayed by ongoing concerns with the groundwater plan. What if the mine did not have to use groundwater at all, but drew water from massive storages created nearby at Lake Buchanan and Lake Galilee? The unused salt lakes perched on the Great Dividing Range could be filled with flood water from an aqueduct to Hells Gate Dam on the headwaters of the Burdekin River.

Low-cost gravitational flow is viable, as it is downhill from all the way from the headwaters of the Burdekin, providing Hells Gate Dam is built to a sufficient height.

Not only Adani, but 5 mines have been approved for the Galilee Coal Basin (see image). Are they going to run into the same water sourcing problems too? A Galilee pipeline should be constructed to pipe water east from the two storages and so mitigate the environmental impact of these mines on ground and surface waters.

The mines in the Bowen Basin draw water from the Burdekin Falls Dam via a pipeline – why not build the same river saving infrastructure for the Galilee Basin?

In addition, the storages could also be used for town water supply and irrigation of the fertile Mitchell Grass Downs to the west of the Great Dividing Range. Use a renewable supply of flood waters and leave the limited groundwater source alone.

Renewable hydropower generation is also possible at and between Lake Buchanan and Lake Galilee, as well as locations along the aqueduct route. The power generated could be sold to the mines, generating carbon-free revenue.

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