Category: Bradfield Scheme

Proposal for a mini-Bradfield Irrigation Scheme

Above is a schematic diagram of a gravity-fed mini-Bradfield Scheme transporting water from the coastal rivers via a levy/pipeline combination (blue) to the storage and distribution lakes on the Great Dividing Range (green).

The levy would accumulate water from the Burdekin River at Hell’s Gate (note the dam would not be needed) and acquire the additional water en route at the Basalt, Campaspe and Cape Rivers (purple). These are headwater collections and so would not impact the regular flows greatly, and help to mitigate flood flows downstream.

The storage lakes of Lake Buchanan and Lake Galilee are currently dry salt lakes whose capacity would be greatly expanded by dams at a few strategic locations. The lakes are uniquely positioned at intermediate elevations on the Great Dividing Range allowing stored water to be gravity fed to the destinations.

From the storage lakes, channels or pipelines would distribute the water where and when needed – to industrial uses east of the Divide such as the Adani Mine, and to new irrigation areas west of the Divide around Muttaburra, Aramac, Barcaldine and Longreach.

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Supporter of the Bradfield Scheme – Barnaby Joyce

Our nation would create a massive expansion for irrigation, providing a substantial increase in wealth and vital economic stimulus for far western towns including Augathella, Charleville, Cunnamulla and Bourke. Additionally this would also provide the vital water for Menindee Lakes and lower lakes in South Australia. It would find a solution to the impossible equation we’re trying to solve now, of where do you get water when you have none.

OPINION: Australia needs the Bradfield scheme
Barnaby Joyce is an Australian politician who served as the leader of the National Party from February 2016 to February 2018, and was Deputy Prime Minister of Australia from February 2016 to October 2017 and from December 2017 to February 2018.
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Supporters of the New Bradfield Scheme are ‘thinking outside the square.’

Sir Leo Hielscher and Sir Frank Moore have updated the Bradfield Scheme, originally conceived in the 1930s by the man who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The proposal calls for a series of dams, pipelines and irrigation channels across Queensland, aimed at opening up vast areas of the state to agriculture and hydroelectric power creation.

Retiring at age 83, after 68 years in the public service, Sir Leo made an “unrivalled contribution to Queensland” since he took a job with the state audit office in 1942, aged 15. He established Gladstone as an industrial and resources hub, negotiated key contracts with mining companies to secure royalties for taxpayers, facilitated the development of Griffith University, Queensland’s casino industry and two coal terminals, and established the Queensland Treasury Corporation. He developed and fully funded the state’s long-term superannuation and employee liabilities, and he drove the planning, financing and construction of the first Gateway bridge in the early 1980s. As a tribute to his services, the dual Gateway bridges were re-named as the Sir Leo Hielscher bridges.

Sir Thomas Moore is an Australian businessman noted for his long-term promotion of the Australian tourism industry in Queensland. He was chair of the Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation Corporation 1978-90, during which time he spearheaded the creation of international airports in Townsville and Cairns. He was chair of the Australian Tourism Industry Association 1984-96, and also chair of the Australian Tourism Research Institute. Moore oversaw the development of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism and was chair of the Centre 1997-2007. He has also served as chair of the Federal Government’s Tourism Forecasting Council, Nature Resorts Limited, Advent Tourism Fund Management Ltd and Great Southern Railway. He was a founding director of Jupiters Limited, a Director of Gold Coast Airport Corporation and a member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.[

In this TEDx talk Sir Leo reflects on the financing of large scale developments that drove the Queensland economy forward from 1926 to 2016, and advises students of the importance of ‘thinking outside the square’ for personal growth and development leading to success.

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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme Environment

Leon Ashby`s trip around North Qld to explain water diversion options 4th – 9th March

Fraser Anning and Leon Ashby will be flying around and showing contour maps of 3 proposed water diversion schemes

1 – Bradfield (Hells Gate to Muttaburra & Aramac) via Pentland

2 – Walsh, Tate, Einasleigh, Gilbert  Rivers diverted to Richmond

3 – Extension of Burdekin Dam (5 x current volume)

It will be the first explanation of how 3 times the amount of water that is used for irrigation in the Murray Darling System could be diverted and or stored in North Qld.

The MDB system has 10,000 GL irrigation which produces $22 billion per year.

North Qld could look to have 30,000 GL  irrigate approx 3,000,000 Ha of land extra.

We believe in excess of $50 Billion could be generated each year from these diversion systems

There are numerous dam sites and places where irrigation farms can be set up.

We look forward to hearing what locals in each area would like to see built and where they believe it can be the best benefit.

Meeting dates

Mon 4th March –

Lake Dunn 1:15 pm &

Charters Towers RSL 7 pm

Wed 6th March

Federal hotel, Richmond 6 pm

7th March

North Gregory Hotel, Winton 9.30 am,

Exchange hotel, Muttaburra  1pm,

Barcoo hotel, Blackall 7 pm

8th March

Corones hotel, Charleville 9.30 am, 

Cobb & Co Hotel,  St George 1.30 pm,

Club hotel, Roma 6 pm

9th March

Club Hotel, Chinchilla 9.30 am,

Commercial Hotel, Kingaroy 1 pm

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A lower cost alternative for the Burdekin River Region Irrigation Area

Low water delivery costs of major irrigation projects are critical to the potential return on investment for government and private sector investors. The fully pumped irrigation schemes would only be viable in circumstances of high prices or high-value products.

The Hells Gates Dam Feasibility Study by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC) is examining a $5.35 billion irrigated agricultural and power project on the upper Burdekin River. But is it the best design? Here I have annotated their current plan with what I think is a sustainable improvement, and also could be stage one of a larger Bradfield Scheme.

The current irrigation design is based on water being released from the Hells Gates Dam (purple) into the Burdekin River (green), where it will be captured in low on-river weirs adjacent to the agricultural zones (yellow). Water will be harvested out of these weirs using pumps to raise the water to the top of the bank where it will be held in temporary storage (SMEC).

Instead of pumping water up to the hill from weirs in the river, an aqueduct
(light blue) at about the 350m contour could be run above the irrigation zones. This would allow irrigation channels (blue) to follow an approximate downhill path within the existing terrain to use gravity as the driver for water delivery, thereby avoiding pumping costs.

Finally, additional storages (red) associated with the aqueduct could capture flows from the Basalt and Hann Rivers providing additional flood storage or water capture.

The economic and environmental benefits of a gravity fed aqueduct are many:

  1. Locating the dam lower on the Burdekin (red) at the Mt Foxton site would avoid inundation of the Gregory Development Road bridge over the Clarke River. This would give considerable saving on road relocation works.
  2. The lower location is below the confluence with the Running River, providing additional stream capture.
  3. Farmers would not need pumps will deliver water to on-farm distribution channels, considerably lowering their water costs.
  4. Under the SMEC design, each zone will require the provision of a weir pool which potentially blocked the river to migrating fish. The alternative plan would not interfere with the natural Burdekin River downstream of the main dam wall.
  5. Run-of-river power stations could be installed at the toe of the dam, and potentially along the aqueduct depending on fall. Power generation would likely take place over most of the year.
  6. The aqueduct could continue on past Charters Towers and the Flinders Highway, providing water to mines of the Galilee Basin including Adani, town water and irrigation to the Mitchell Grass Downs, and even further to Blackall, St George and the Murray Darling Basin.
  7. This could be the first stage of a greater Bradfield Scheme. Constructed stage by stage, the scheme would be virtually self-financing.

Another major difference between this and the current SMEC design is the location of the dam lower on the Burdekin at the Mt Foxton Site versus Hells Gate. The relative costs/benefits of these two sites have been tabulated in the study Table 1: Dam Location Options Analysis. The Hells Gate was thought to have fewer environmental and cultural heritage concerns but had a greater potential impact on the road infrastructure. The best siting of the dam should be revisited in view of an aqueduct delivery system.

Alternatively, the aqueduct could originate from an upper Hells Dam site instead of Mt Foxton, at a higher location, and follow a contour above 400m. The dam wall may also be raised to the maximum height, creating a mega-dam proposed by Sir Leo Heischler and Leon Ashby. These options have yet to be comprehensively examined.

Frequently, environmental and cultural heritage concerns are overblown, as there are well-established mechanisms for dealing with them. including offsets and agreements. Particularly in the case of projects of national significance, these would not present insurmountable impediments to projects.

In summary, the first financially viable stage of a Bradfield Scheme may be the development of a 2,100 GL storage dam and aqueduct in the upper Burdekin supporting 50,000 ha of irrigated horticulture, including fruit, vegetables, pulses/legumes, and broad-scale agriculture of both perennial and annual crops. There are various factors that increase the cost and the environmental impact of the SMEC proposal – the impact to downstream water flows, the Gregory Development Road innudation, and the cost of weirs and pumping – that are mitigated by delivering water in a gravity-fed aqueduct. I will endeavor to have this proposal examined before the Business Case and comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) set the realization of the Hells Gates Dam project in concrete (so to speak).

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Interactive Map of Revised Bradfield Scheme

It is really amazing what can be done with geographic information on the web now. Above is an interactive Revised Bradfield Scheme that I did up in a few hours using Queensland Globe for editing, and ArcGIS for sharing. ArcGIS allows a paste into a web document or a web app so I will certainly be looking into that in the future.

Click on the plus or minus to zoom in or out. All locations are approximate. The legend for the above is as follows.

The shaded green polygons are dams: Hells Gate Dam in the north and the two storages Lake Buchanan and Lake Galilee in the south. They are connected by a red line which is the northern collector aqueduct, harvesting flows from the Burdekin river and creeks along the way to the main storages. The green lines are the distribution aqueducts, transferring water from the two storages to the main northern areas of the black earth country from Hughenden to Richmond and Julia Creek and the southern distributor to Longreach and Winton. Blue lines are watercourses – of course.

The red dots are open water monitoring stations that provide daily flow data. The black square is the approximate location of Adani Mine which may also potentially draw water from the scheme. The opaque light green areas are protected environment such as national parks – demonstrating the scheme does not impact any existing protected area.

Zoom in far enough and the contours come into view. Please note the locations of the routes are approximate at present. There is a great deal of work to be done to refine the scheme as we are at a preliminary feasibility assessment stage.

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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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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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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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