WATER MANAGEMENT

WATER MANAGEMENT

November 8, 2019

Making The Desert Bloom

This was David Ben-Gurion’s dream for turning Israel into an agricultural powerhouse. We need an Aussie version of it.

Much of our climate is similar and the need to manage our water and our landscapes are the same, if not greater. Yet somehow, with the honourable exception of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, we Aussies don’t seem to be able to talk sensibly about water management. We seem doomed to a long time between drinks.

WATER MANAGEMENT

November 8, 2019

Making The Desert Bloom

This was David Ben-Gurion’s dream for turning Israel into an agricultural powerhouse. We need an Aussie version of it.

Much of our climate is similar and the need to manage our water and our landscapes are the same, if not greater. Yet somehow, with the honourable exception of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, we Aussies don’t seem to be able to talk sensibly about water management. We seem doomed to a long time between drinks.

It is Already A Long Time Between Drinks

Deb Frecklington’s recent announcement of the LNP’s commitment to a new Bradfield Scheme is the most positive water announcement in regional Queensland for over three decades.

The current drought is now being compared to the Federation Drought. It spotlights the fact that it is over 30 years since the Burdekin Falls Dam was opened. That not a single dam has been built in the region since then is complete negligence.

It is a state-wide failure. The Millennium Drought exposed inadequate water planning in the south-east corner, yet here we are today seriously trucking water to towns and farmhouses due to drought.

Despite all the population growth in Queensland over the last three decades, the only new dam is the Paradise Dam in 2005. This is the one the Labor Government is currently busy emptying, in the middle of a drought, so they can rectify their faulty construction.

Let’s All Move On

Let’s salute Peter Beattie for the faulty dam and Annastacia Palaszczuk for the bungled water release. Then we can all “just move on”, as Pete liked to say. In fact, we can move on to something better altogether.

Just Add Water … Prosperity will Follow

We need a bold new vision for water infrastructure in Queensland. Water is prosperity.

The Fairbairn Dam at Emerald was a government project. It was visionary and foundational. It saw agriculture boom and it brought coal mines to the Central Highlands. Prosperity follows water.

But if the founders had been told they could not build it without a business case, and the business case must be based on the water demand existing at the time, it would never have been built at all. You cannot expect the population or the production to come before the water.

It really is still the job of governments to underwrite the cost of economy-boosting infrastructure. Any other approach is doomed to fall into a Catch22.

Wasn’t The Bradfield Scheme Disproved Years Ago?

The original Bradfield Scheme was about harvesting our tropical monsoon rains and diverting them up and over the Great Divide by pumping. Bradfield then proposed to channel the water to Lake Eyre. He hypothesised that such a body of water would create its own small water cycle, generating rain.

This aspect has since been disproved. Other critics of the original scheme felt the amount of pumping required to lift the water over the Great Divide made the scheme impractical in a financial sense.

But the overall goal has always been inspiring – and climate change has strengthened the case. Tropical North Queensland is one of the few regions in Australia where rainfall is not predicted to decline.

Managing the Climate Change Challenges

  • Bradfield’s idea offers a real way to decrease harmful sedimentary run-off into the Great Barrier Reef by diverting excess flows west

  • It would provide the biggest hydro-electricity scheme ever seen in the State – green energy production of up to 2,000 megawatts

  • It would see water flow down the western river systems to eventually join the northern catchment of the Murray Darling basin, helping that ecosystem

  • Along the way, it would allow irrigation farming on our immense blacksoil plains, providing food security and transforming Queensland into an agricultural powerhouse.

From Bulldozers to Mole Tunnels

Of course, Bradfield was developing his ideas in the 1930’s. By strange co-incidence, this was about the same time that a couple of blokes from Kansas - with a bit of time on their hands - were inventing the bulldozer.

Earthmoving technology has been on a steady upward trend ever since. The Mole is the current peak of invention. This is the nickname for GPS-guided, tunnel-boring machines.

This Changes Everything

Using moles, you can move the water through tunnels that are designed and built with a “fall” that allows gravity to do the work. Minimal pumping involved.

On the western side, the river network will gravity feed it all the way past Hughenden and Longreach to the Warrego River.

The New Bradfield Scheme

The proposal has been developed by Sir Leo Hielscher and Sir Frank Moore, two gentlemen who deserve much credit for their part in developing two of Queensland’s most important industries – coal mining and tourism.

Sir Leo and Sir Frank have brought Bradfield’s concept into the modern era. Their “New Bradfield Scheme” expands upon the already-completed Hells Gate Dam study. It would raise the height of the Hells Gate Dam to 120 metres, drawing water from the South Johnstone, Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers into a lake potentially twice the size of the Burdekin Falls Dam.

Water Security is Urgent

There has been a lot of heated public debate about what Australia should be doing to help stop climate change, but it is scary how little discussion there has been of what we need to be doing now to lessen the impacts where can. Nor has there been any practical discussion of how we will manage the impacts we can’t mitigate.

Of all the impacts, for most of Australia water scarcity will be the most urgent. Water affects everything – from our population size, to our quality of life. Water scarcity is already hitting the south-west of Western Australia very hard. Rainfall in the grain belt has declined by around 20 percent and the trend is set to continue.

Queensland is fortunate that rainfall along our tropical north coast is not predicted to decline due to climate change. It may even increase. We must get serious now in implementing a solution that both protects the eastern seaboard from floods and the western inland from drought. The New Bradfield Scheme will do that.

So, Let’s Get Cracking!

If the LNP is elected in 2020, we are committed to working with the CSIRO to get the feasibility study done. This is needed because the project is a fundamentally different one from the original Bradfield Scheme. It comes with a completely different set of engineering challenges.

When Can It Be Finished?

We have to think beyond the next four year term, because it will take ten years to build. It is estimated it will cost $15 billion – a major investment that the LNP proposes to cover through dedicating mining royalties to pay for it.

It will prove to be an investment that sets Queensland up for the next 100 years.

You know it is a good idea when Annastacia Palaszczuk tries to shoot it down and push a cut-price version that doesn’t do the full job. I think I prefer to take my advice from Sir Leo and Sir Frank.

Over to You

As always, thank you for reading my newsletter about issues affecting Gregory. I welcome your comments on this or any other topic.

If you are new to the newsletter and want to subscribe, email me at gregory@parliament.qld.gov.au or visit lachlanmillarmp.com.

Kind Regards,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.