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Is the Bradfield Scheme Viable?

In assessing viability, the value of any project has two components – capex and opex. An operating expense or opex is an ongoing cost for running a project, a capital expenditure (capex), is the cost of developing the project.

CAPEX can be compared with similar project to determine if it provides value for money. For comparison, the Paradise Dam across the Burnett River with a 300,000-megalitre or 300GigaL capacity cost $240 million to build. A cost of $1000 per GL of water storage which is typical of large scale water storages.

The large Bradfield Scheme proposed by Leon Ashby would store 60,000 GigaL and is estimated to cost $52 billion including upgrades of existing dams, new dams, pipelines, tunnels and aqueducts. This $820 per GL of storage capacity – comparable to similar large storages.

The scheme put forward by Sir Leo Hielscher for an enhanced Hell’s Gate Dam with 120m headwall, augmented by tapping waters from the Tully, South Johnstone and Herbert rivers and a tunnel to the west is $15 billion. Hell’s Gate Dam alone could hold 40,000GL for a capex of $375 per GL. While this capex is considerably lower than Ashby’s scheme, the Ashby scheme includes infrastructure to Richmond and down into Muttaburra and many storages en route such as Lake Buchanan.

Thus other measures such as potential area under irrigation, and value of production also need to be compared. For the opex or operating expenditure, the most most vital being the annual offtake of water, and its cost to irrigators.

For comparison the MDB produces $22 billion of produce each year from around 10,000 GL of irrigation water. Leon estimates the annual potential is for a total of 21,000 GL of irrigation to be possible from the Eastern and Western Systems (8,000 GL each) and another 5,000 GL from the Burdekin Dam. Once developed, these three systems could increase National GDP by another 20 – 40 Billion dollars per year.

I don’t yet have the estimates for the Sir Leo Hielscher plan.

Leon estimates the cost of water for the Burdekin Dam enhancement with some delivery charges & pump costs of $12 per megalitre, the cost would be around $39.50 per ML. This compares to $50 per megalitre for water in the MDB system.

I expect the cost of water for the entirely gravity fed portions of the scheme would be considerably less – of the order of $10 per ML. The delivery of 20,000 GL at a cost of $200 million to produce (conservatively) $20 billion of produce.

Add in the cost of financing the capital works as 5% of $50 billion or $2,600 million per annum we are looking at around $3 billion in annual costs. If interest costs were borne entirely by the irrigator, the finance costs would boost water costs to $130 per ML. At a rate to support rapid development of end uses – the farmers would pay say $25 per ML – the annual return on the infrastructure expenditure would be $500 million or 0.5 billion. However, the figures for this project are similar to other large scale water infrastructure project. Clearly, suitable financing arrangements are crucial to their success.

Various plans have been put forward, such as development bonds, development banks, superannuation funds and so on, and clearly a lot of work would need to be done in this area in order for the project to be self-financing.

These rough figures of $3 billion annual expenditure for $20 billion are at peak development which may take 20 years. Increasing the costs of finance to 10% to cover the dip would be $5 billion which gives an opex over capex of 10. From a public project point of view, these figures need to be compared with alternatives such as road, rail and port construction.

It’s hard to imagine an alternative infrastructure with a more favourable opex/capex at the present time.

Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

Designing an aqueduct to carry flood flows

The flows in North Queensland Rivers can vary enormously, up to 1000GL per day on an annual average flow of a few GL per day. The design of an aqueduct to accommodate both regular flows and yet capture significant flood flows presents a challenge.

As the aqueduct constitutes the most costly component of the scheme, simplifications and cost reductions over 1000km or more would be significant. Above is my suggestion for a simple flood flow aqueduct that also accommodates regular flows.

The image shows the transverse cross-section of aqueduct consisting of the channel and levee, and a longitudinal cross-section shows the100km sections with a flat gradient and hydropower and roads in the gaps.

The levee is constructed with a simple cut and fill operation where soils are suitable, transferring the soil from the trench, which is the low flow channel, to the compacted levee bank. A height of about 6m should be sufficient, allowing a peak depth of 10m. The shapes of the channel and levee could be trapezoidal but are shown as triangles for ease.

The low flow cross-section would be around 25m2 and lines with high-density polyethylene liner (HDPE). The slope is very low in most parts, with an extent of 500 to 1000m on a 5m head. The cross-section of the flood flow would, therefore, be around 1250 to 2500m2.

By my calculations, a maximum flow rate of 1m/s or 3.6 km/hr (not too fast as the gradient is very low and avoids scouring) would convey around 2GL per day in the low flow channel and 110 to 220GL per day in the high flow channel. This is more than adequate to capture significant flood flows accounting for variable flow rates as well. The actual detailed design needs to be done to refine these ballpark specifications, including estimates of realistic losses.

An approach favored by Leo Ashby is for the levee to be constructed on the contour for 100km lengths, with each section joined by 10m falls. The levee would act as a combined storage weir while transferring water by hydraulic flow over long distances at gradients as low as 1:10,000.

The gaps between the section could be located at important infrastructure points like major roads, with appropriate low pressure hydropower stations sited on them. This would minimise the disruption of existing infrastructure while providing access to power lines along roads.

Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme


Bradfield. Leon Ashby. Sir Leo. David Stockwell

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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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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

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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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

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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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

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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Categories: Book Bradfield Scheme

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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