Securing water through contemporary science
A history of strong water management
Australians have a long history of overcoming the sometimes harsh realities of life in the world’s driest inhabited continent. Access to water and security of supply, have played a critical role in the growth of Australia. Water has significance for Indigenous Australians – the cultural and spiritual values of water are important for Indigenous culture and identity.
Ideas and solutions to harness water for productive use, such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme in New South Wales and the Ord Irrigation Scheme in Western Australia capture Australia’s can-do spirit.
The role of contemporary science in securing water for our future
Proposals for moving water over long distances from wet to dry areas of our country continue to capture our imagination as we look for ways to increase our resilience to drought and secure a reliable water supply to underpin our prosperity into the future.
An example is the ambitious scheme first proposed by engineer Dr John Bradfield in 1938, known as the Bradfield Scheme. Dr Bradfield proposed an inter-catchment water diversion scheme to move water inland from the north Queensland coast.
The National Water Grid Authority commissioned CSIRO to undertake a detailed technical and economic viability analysis to comprehensively assess both the original Bradfield Scheme and contemporary opportunities, based on the latest science, data and technology.
CSIRO’s study found that despite these advancements, the scheme is not economically viable and that a better use of the available water is across regional Queensland:
- the quantity of water available is less than half what Bradfield proposed.
- the largest versions of the dams as proposed by Bradfield would never fill due to the high evaporation in the north.
- taking into account water for existing users and for the environment means that there would be even less water.
- the cost to build the dam and diversion infrastructure, that would by necessity include gravity fed channels and pipes, is significant and would result in
- the price of water to irrigators being unaffordable
- the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure to move the water would never be recovered
- diversion infrastructure costs alone would far exceed future net crop revenues.
- For long distance transfers such as to the top of the Murray—Darling Basin, between one third and half of the water collected is estimated to be lost during transit
- diverting water inland adds cost without discernible benefit by moving water to areas where it could be used less efficiently and at higher cost
While the scientific research found that the construction of the full Bradfield Scheme and more recent variants is not economically viable, there are opportunities to use this water locally.
Dr Bradfield was able to achieve a vast amount during his career without access to modern technology and his legacy is celebrated.
A summary report and supporting technical report are available at www.csiro.au/bradfield.
Q. What did CSIRO investigate?
CSIRO conducted a study on the original Bradfield Scheme and contemporary proposals to divert water from north Queensland’s east coast inland.
The assessment undertook a comprehensive reanalysis of the scheme, focusing on its hydrology and technical feasibility using contemporary information and methods to verify key assertions and to assess contrasting claims. It included assessing all options including channels and pipes.
Using very optimistic assumptions and utilising modern science and technology to maximise efficiency, CSIRO found that the cost to divert water is uneconomic, in that it would result in far too high a cost of water to farmers, and the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure to move the water would never be recovered.
For a copy of the detailed report and key findings please visit www.csiro.au/bradfield
Q. If the Bradfield Scheme isn’t the solution, then what is?
The Australian Government recognise the importance of water security for regional Australia and will work with the Queensland Government on investigating alternative innovative and viable water solutions that is economic and environmentally sustainable, and achieve outcomes consistent with the broader vision of the original Bradfield scheme.
Projects that deliver water security, are environmentally sustainable and provide economic outcomes will be considered by the Australian Government in line with the Investment Framework for the National Water Grid Fund.
Q. Why is water better kept in north Queensland?
The cost to divert water is uneconomic, in that it would result in far too high a cost of water to farmers, and the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure to move the water would never be recovered.
The CSIRO study found that diverting water inland adds cost without discernible benefit by moving water to areas where it could be used less efficiently and at higher cost. Diversion infrastructure costs alone would far exceed future net crop revenues.
The most effective option is to plan and invest in the use of water closer to where it falls to accelerate regional development in central and northern Queensland.
Our early priorities include examining the Bradfield Scheme and its variations more closely, in collaboration with Australia’s leading science agencies.
National Water Grid Authority Science Program
Science plays an important role in identifying the infrastructure that is best suited to improving water security in Australia’s regions, and in delivering the next generation of Australia’s water infrastructure through the National Water Grid.