We should build the Bradfield scheme: Joyce

OPINION: Australia needs the Bradfield scheme


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With record floods in the north and a lack of water in the south, it's time we acted, says MP Barnaby Joyce.

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ON MONDAY last week at 11am floodwaters peaked in Townsville.

The small by national standards, 233 gigalitre Ross River Dam was close to 250 per cent full.

With flood gates wide open it was releasing 7.2GL of water an hour – more water an hour than the total flow down the Condamine River into NSW this year.   

Areas to the north and south of Townsville received up to 400 millimetres a day, 16 inches in the old scale – with locations nearby Upper Bluewater and Black River recording 1731mm and 1553mm respectively in the past week.

Putting this in perspective, in just three days parts of North Queensland received more rain than Sydney’s annual average of 1215mm.

In the past week, the amount of fresh water dumped over the Ross River catchment alone would have filled Sydney Harbour (560GL volume) twice.

This does not include the volume dumped over the catchments of the nearby Haughton River and the Herbert River to the north of Townsville.

For the month of January in 1981, Ingham received a total of 1,712mm of rain. Well over 1.5m fell in just one month.

Meanwhile, in another part of Queensland, at St George, so far this year only 6GL of environmental water was released through the gates of Jack Taylor Weir.

At Cunnamulla no water has flowed over the Allan Tannock weir since April last year.

In the south, the main news item is the lack of water. In the north it’s record floods.

You would think Australia was two different countries.

But we are not, we are one federation.

There is a solution, take water from where there is a lot, to where there is not. Take water from where there is massive excess to where to there is a dire paucity.  

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.

 But sadly, every time someone brings this up they get ridiculed by a parade of cynics worshipping the god of inertia, whose solution for everything is to put a stick in the spoke of the wheels for civilisation. 

With the Bradfield Scheme in play we could be one of the greatest agricultural exporters in the world.

I have never heard of a current alternative solution except suck it up and deal with it whilst feeling an absurd form of guilt you are somehow personally responsible for it not raining.

Irrigation is not the problem at the moment, drought in the south is.

There is little to no irrigation happening on the western plains, because there is no water. It is that simple and the solution to the dilemma has been available for about 90 years.

One of the major architects of the solution was the same person who came up with the implausible idea of building a large steel bridge from Dawes Point in The Rocks to Milsons Point – the Sydney Harbour Bridge - which at the time could fit nearly every motorcar in Australia on it. 

Bradfield was so out there, he designed another from Kangaroo Point in Brisbane to Fortitude Valley.

Everybody talked about the construction of the Harbour Bridge as an expression of national pride. 

Sadly, for many years Dr JJC Bradfield’s 1938 solution to inland droughts has been put in the too hard basket.

Basically the Bradfield Scheme is a grand design on how to move water. Ultimately moving water down the Thomson and Warrego Rivers, into the Darling System through the Menindee Lakes, via all the districts we hear on the news which are in drought, finally flowing out to sea at Coorong in South Australia.

This would be a major piece of national infrastructure. Major water infrastructure always is. 

When engineer CY O’Connor undertook to build the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme and pipeline from Mundaring Weir on Perth’s Helena River to Kalgoorlie, he and Premier Sir John Forrest faced strong criticism.

The cost of scheme when commissioned in 1896 was equal to the colony’s entire annual budget.  

We’d do well to remember the Snowy Mountains Scheme was started in 1949 with a ceremonial blast at Adaminaby, NSW, by then Prime Minister Ben Chifley, and completed in 1974 for a total cost of $820m, the equivalent of $6.8bn today.

In the 1949-50 federal budget, total outlays were $1.439bn. So, the final cost of the Snowy Scheme was roundly 57pc of total commonwealth spending in the year construction started. The equivalent commitment today would be $278.5bn in the 2018-19 Budget of $488.6bn.

At the time, these schemes were highly contentious.

Today, no one doubts the huge rewards these schemes they have given to our nation.

The federal government has put money on the table for Hells Gate Dam, which is actually a small step in Bradfield’s grand plan.

Whether it takes five years or 50 years, we should start the process to construct the Bradfield Scheme.  

We should construct the Bradfield Scheme well before we build a bullet train from Sydney to Melbourne - for which recent cost estimates for stage one are close to $50 billion.

We should build the Bradfield Scheme to meet the needs of a further 20 million people who’ll be part of Australia’s future population, who won’t be able to live in Sydney or Melbourne.

We should build the scheme to secure water for our growing population and support Australia’s agricultural industries.

Estimates to build the Bradfield Scheme range from $15bn upward, depending on the extent of distribution system, and leading infrastructure and financial experts believe it could be self-funding with no risk to taxpayers.

As a first step, federal support is needed to establish an authority, similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, on which the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority was based.

With the Bradfield Scheme in play we could be one of the greatest agricultural exporters in the world.

The Land

The story We should build the Bradfield scheme: Joyce first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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