For more than a decade Mackay Conservation Group has been voicing concerns about the proposed Urannah Dam that will flood some of the few remaining pristine river systems in Central Queensland. This dam was first put forward way back in the 1960s. An economic analysis back then found that the dam didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t.
A review of the preliminary business case for Urannah Dam in 2020 found that the dam will only produce 26 cents in benefits for our community for every dollar it costs. We will be much worse off if this dam goes ahead. Even before the dam is built, taxpayers money has been used to fund a whole lot of work for this privately owned dam. The federal government has contributed $13 million towards feasibility studies, that’s equivalent to more than $100 being taken out of the pocket of every man, woman and child in the Mackay region. The owners of this private dam don’t want to stop at $13 million, however. They also want the taxpayer to foot the bill for up to half of the $600 million construction costs.
If Urannah Dam does go ahead there will be severe impacts downstream. The proposed dam would be the second largest in Queensland, only surpassed by Burdekin Falls Dam. Records show that during Cyclone Debbie nearly 4,000 cubic metres of water flowed down the river at Urannah Creek every second. That water made its way downstream into the Bowen and Burdekin Rivers. Meanwhile less than one tenth of that volume flowed past the the Burdekin Falls Dam wall.
Some people may think that water was wasted but ask any cane farmer in the Lower Burdekin and they’ll tell you that the water went to good use. It recharged the groundwater aquifers that farmers depend upon for irrigation. It also kept the saltwater that creeps in from the ocean at bay. The flood flows also produced benefits for wetlands that are so important in the lifecycle of fish and other marine species.
There are better uses of taxpayers money than funding a new private dam project in the Burdekin Basin. One of them would be providing farmers in the Lower Burdekin with new equipment to enable more efficient irrigation techniques. As much water could be saved through water efficiencies as Urannah Dam would make available and would cost far less than a new dam.