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CSIRO Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment will not help the bush

In Queensland, CSIRO have identified the Mitchell catchment (yellow area above) as the greatest potential to increase greenfield development opportunities in Northern Australia, and the coastal regions of the Fitzroy and Burdekin River catchments for enhancements. However, developments in these would do nothing for the water poor, rich soil areas of Clermont, Richmond, Longreach, Barcaldine, Muttaburra that already have established agricultural infrastructure that could be expanded, established human settlements (and importantly voters), and further west potentially channel water into the Murray Darling Basin.

The CSIRO studies have not, so far, evaluated the feasibility of aqueducts between catchments. Therefore, the locations they identify rely on the coincidence of good soils, dam locations and rainfall. They do not consider connected water networks with harvesting levees and high catchment dams, or aqueducts that could transfer water between high rainfall poor soil, to low rainfall good soil locations. Not considered, also, are potential higher returns from enhanced town water supplies.

The problem – very few people live in the Mitchell catchment or want to go there (see map). I am concerned the CSIRO are going down the wrong path again, potentially creating another massive ‘white elephant’ like the Ord River Irrigation Scheme that may take 100’s of years to reach the projected potential. A system of gravity-fed aqueducts from the high rainfall northern rivers of Tully and the Walsh Rivers into the existing populated outback areas with irrigation potential – aka the new Bradfield Scheme – needs to be included in the CSIRO feasibility studies.

CSIRO have investigated the potential of northern Australia’s water resources to support increased regional development as part of our engagement in delivery of the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, for which one of the key initiatives is the development of northern Australia’s water resources. They have delivered water resource assessments for three priority regions in northern Australia for the Australian Government after working with northern jurisdictions, research partners and communities over 2.5 years. An orphaned dam in the Mitchell catchment is all we get? Disappointing.

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Comparable water schemes worldwide – California

Let’s look at similar water storage and distribution systems to the New Bradfield Scheme, in California.

California is 400 km wide and 1200 km long. It has a land area of 423,970 km2 of which 36,421 km2 is irrigated. Agricultural production is $47 billion per year, a large proportion of which is irrigated or irrigation related.

California is largely desert and its population centres and agriculture watered by a number of long aqueducts exceeding 500 km in length.

For example, the California State Water Project, commonly known as the SWP, collects water from rivers in Northern California and redistributes it to the water-scarce but populous south through a 650 km length aqueduct, with pumping stations and power plants. About 70% of the water provided by the project is used for urban areas and industry in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, and 30% is used for irrigation in the Central Valley.

By comparison, Northern Queensland has a land area of approximately 500,000 km². An extended Bradfield Scheme may provide irrigation for 30,000 km2 of land. This would be achieved by a system of aqueducts and dams, of similar length to similar to those in California. In return, we would expect agricultural production of $50 billion per year, similar to California.

In some ways Queensland is more suited than California, as due to good luck or blessing, the new Bradfield Scheme may entirely gravity fed through tunnels and aqueducts. The cost of water may therefore be considerably less than the cost of water in the SWP in California.

The construction of the aqueducts in the new Bradfield Scheme could be staged, developing first those areas that are closer to population centres and prepared for irrigation, and releasing the excess water into parched river systems. However, the irrigation of large areas black soil plains in the central state would open up the largest areas to new agriculture.

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NECESSITY

How do gravity fed systems work? Examples of Gravity fed systems. Yeomans Keyline system. Permaculture. Colorado River. Climate variability, rainfall sources monsoon in northern Queensland, flood flows vs regular flows, soil types suitable for irrigation, water tables. Economics of pumping and gravity fed methods. Crop selection and processing facilities. Market proximity.

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The benefit of water conveyance across climate zones for cotton production

Pause to think about why farmers dam water. Usually, it is to store intermittent or seasonally variable rain until the optimal growing season of the crop when water becomes limiting.

When it is most needed, the rainfall deficit coincides with a deficit going into the dam. When raining and the dam is filling, the local need is low. At high rainfall events, storages are filled to overflowing when the local demand is lowest, so most of the water goes over the spillway.

Conveyance of water via long aqueducts provides water from sources that are far away. Either the source is less correlated with the sink, or the supply and demand are in sync, such that the water is most in demand when it is the most available, and least in demand when least available.

Long Conveyance of water in the Bradfield Scheme not just about the supply of water from less correlated regions. It is about transfer between climates with reliably different rainfall patterns. Large local dams need to store water over from the winter period in order to water during summer, losing considerable amounts due to evaporation. Conveyance of monsoonal water during the summer period would minimize the storage and associated evaporative losses.

In a summer crop such as cotton, water may be limited in the hot dry growing season. Therefore the transfer of water from a monsoon climate in Northern Queensland to climates with uniform rainfall such as southern Queensland and Northern NSW makes sense.

Annual average rainfall varies from more than 1800 mm along the coast with peak rainfall in summer (Jan to April). Southern districts receive average rain in the hot summer, making agriculture particularly reliant on rainfall during the winter growing season – unless water was conveyed from the reliable monsoon falls of the north.

As an example, cotton is a perennial plant grown commercially as an annual, summer crop. It prefers hot summers with low humidity and a maximum amount of sunshine. Cottonseed is planted in the spring as soon as the soil is warm enough to be sure of satisfactory seed germination and crop establishment. On irrigated cotton farms the initial irrigation (watering) is usually followed by a further four to five irrigations, at two to three-week intervals, from mid-December to late-February.

Thus the northern wet season is long enough for the fourth months of growth needed from germination to when the cotton bolls to ripen and split open. When mature, timing is critical in cotton. The controlled watering ensures dry conditions on the heavy soils that are needed for mechanical harvesting, placing into large modules, and transferring to cotton gins for processing and shipping to overseas markets.

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Why Water Resources Need Connection

Local water storage doesn’t last through Australian droughts.

The South Burnett is located on top of Australia’s Great Dividing Range just two hours drive north-west of Brisbane, Australia and directly west of the Sunshine Coast. The South Burnett is  Queensland’s largest wine region, home to the State’s biggest vineyards and more than 20 wineries and cellar doors. The South Burnett is also home to two of Queensland’s biggest inland waterways (Lake Boondooma and the Bjelke-Petersen Dam), the Jurassic-era Bunya Mountains and some of Australia’s prettiest agricultural country.

With the water level at Lake Barambah currently 8%, irrigation of these agricultural business has been severely restricted.

Lake Barambah has irrigation, camping and recreational facilities handled by Murgon Shire Council. Facilities for caravans, cabins, camping and day-trippers are extensive. Under normal conditions there are no boating restrictions, except near the dam wall. In 2006, drought conditions reduced dam levels to 5% of total capacity. With such low levels, visitors numbers dropped significantly and local councils were concerned about maintaining drinking water for local towns. With the water level at Lake Barambah currently 8%, recreational users and visitors must be aware of exposed and submerged hazards.

An integrated water scheme such as the new Bradfield Scheme would allow storages such as these to be refilled by the abundant flows from the recent coastal wet season that saw widespread above average rainfalls and flood from Cairns to Townsville.

Read the full-alert here: https://bit.ly/2DdOiN0

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Sustainability branding of the Bradfield Scheme

Through control of the supply of water to certified producers including mines and farmers, the Bradfield Scheme can drive the environmental and humane animal husbandry outcomes that consumers seem to increasingly demand.

Sustainability branding is the process of creating, maintaining and adding value to the products of the scheme through certified environmental and social benefits. In contrast to existing green, organic brands which mainly focus on farming practices, the sustainability brand entails health and safety issues, conditions under which a particular product is produced, and adheres to the triple bottom line of ecological (environmental), social (equity), and financial (economic) sustainability.

Certification may require demonstration of such practices as Integrated Pest Management, free-range animal husbandry, environmental offset and reserves, indigenous employment to name a few. In this way, there will be the likelihood of identification and loyalty amongst consumers associated with social and environmental added value.

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Water facilitates new industries: Project Iron Boomerang

Steel is made from iron ore, coal, water, and other trace elements. Shipping both ore and coal to a third location is an inefficient use of the world’s biggest bulk ships that return empty half the distance. Project “Iron Boomerang” puts an end to the empty load phenomenon with a double east-west Australian rail line that will save billions per year. The average iron in ore is 60% the rest is dirt 40% – the empty return trip ship and train efficiency is therefore around 30%.

Gross water use in integrated steel plants ranges from 50,000 to 500,000 liters per ton of steel ingots, and so a reliable source of water is another requirement of efficient production. Value-added production is economically important for Australia and its major world trading partners. For the trading partners that participate in the production of steel, the industrialization of the inland facilitated by a Bradfield Scheme offers a sustainable and competitive means of reducing the cost per tonne of metals produced, while reducing global environmental impacts.

The purpose-built transcontinental railway line will link Australia’s two great ore bodies for steelmaking, iron ore from the west coast and metallurgical coal from the east coast with smelters at either end. A transcontinental railway will be dedicated to carrying resources efficiently from one side of the country to the other.

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FEASIBILITY

Heights of locations, Flows in streams, soil types.

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Elevations of Locations in Bradfield Scheme

The experts say it can’t be done, but a close look at the elevations of the sources, storages and destinations for the Bradfield Scheme says otherwise.

The ideal gradient for an open gravity-fed irrigation channel is 1:5000 or 100m per 500 km. Any flatter and the flow slows and steeper risks damage. This is the typical gradient for the Roman aqueduct system totaling over almost 1000 km delivering 10,000 GigaLitres of fresh water to Rome per day.

In an eastern Bradfield Scheme, the elevation goes from 430m at Niall near the Burdekin River to Lake Buchanan over the 500km to the main storage at 340m at Lake Buchanan and 280m on Lake Galilee. This is an average gradient of 1:5000.

The water could potentially be distributed throughout the whole of the fertile black soil plains area of Central West Queensland, from Barcaldine at 267m and Aramac at 226m, to Longreach and Richmond at around 200m, as far as Julia Creek at 132m about 500 km from Barcaldine (light blue polygon). Again 1:5000.

The topography starts to rise towards Hughenden at 318m and Blackall 284m and so would set the furthest extent for a gravity-fed supply. However, the land continues to fall towards Birdsville 48m and Innaminika 16m and so could continue to be fed in a south-western direction.

The Tully Falls near Cairns at 670m elevation and Herbert River are viable sources of gravity-fed inflow to the scheme.

The black soil plains of Central West Queensland currently support mainly low intensity grazing due to the irregular water availability. However, they are well located to supply communities to the north, south, east and west with higher value agricultural products, including irrigated cotton, wheat, and horticultural products. This would be enabled by a well established infrastructure of rail and road connections.

Water from the scheme would also augment town water supplies, many of which are under extreme pressure, where the drought-hit town of Ilfracombe has even imported a temporary desalination plant.

Water from the eastern portion of the scheme may largely flow to the Muttaburra, Aramac, Longreach and Barcaldine area, while from the western portion of the scheme fed by Gulf rivers may supplement areas such as Richmond and Julia Creek.

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