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.
Category: Bradfield Scheme
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The new Bradfield Scheme could provide 30 thousand km2 of new irrigated land in inland Queensland, more than doubling the land under irrigation, and catapulting Australia from 23rd place by irrigated land area (between Peru and Japan) to 8th place (between Brazil and Thailand).
COMING SOON: The 80 year old Bradfield scheme is a proposed world-class inland irrigation project that was designed to irrigate and drought-proof much of the north and western Queensland interior. The Scheme required large pipes, tunnels, and dams from the upper reaches of the Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers to feed the Thompson and Flinders rivers. Interest in the scheme has persisted in minor political parties, but studies have dismissed it as lacking in scientific justification, excessively expensive, and overly optimistic. Leon Ashby, with a history of broadacre irrigation and innovation, has solved the central problems in the original scheme and extended it to two larger schemes with much greater efficiencies and beneficial environmental impacts. Ashby’s plan is for an entirely gravity fed system, obviated the need for pumping water, harvesting flood flows and providing many additional irrigation dams en route. This would be achieved by siting high in the catchment an innovative 2000km contiguous aqueduct that would move the water gently from the highest dams at 800m elevation, over and through the Great Dividing Range plateau to dams at around 200m elevation in the central west. The holding capacity is expected to be 60,000 GigaL or three times the size of the Murray Darling Irrigation scheme. This would provide 30,000 GL per annum to irrigate approx 30,000 km2 of land, more than doubling the size of irrigated land in Australia. In addition the scheme has the ability to generate GWs of power, control and reduce the flooding flow of coastal rivers, and may reduce coral bleaching, excess nutrients and silt to the Great Barrier Reef from coastal farming and development. Along with other innovations from new technology, this would enable the realisation of the original Bradfield Scheme of opening up large swathes of fertile soil in central and western Queensland for fodder crops, cotton, and horticultural enterprises of all types, providing an estimated additional $50 billion dollars per annum to the Australian economy, along with jobs, revitalisation of rural communities, elimination of the droughts and flooding rains and creation of a world class irrigation scheme for rural Queensland.
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