Mackay Conservation Group released a report last week which shows that tens of millions of taxpayer’s dollars will be wasted if the proposed Urannah Dam west of Mackay goes ahead
The report is a review of 17 previous studies into the dam dating back to the 1960s, none of which have provided sufficient evidence to justify a new dam, yet the federal government has recently committed $3 million to an 18th feasibility study of the Urannah Dam proposal.
The report, An Economic Analysis Of The Urannah Dam Project, found that it is most likely that for every $1 spent on the dam, only 75 cents of economic benefit would be returned. Even the most optimistic scenario from previous studies shows that the Urannah Dam would barely break even.
The key findings of the report are:
- The Urannah dam is a more expensive option to deliver water for irrigation, the Galilee basin, and for the Bowen region;
- The Urannah dam is a cheaper option to supply water to the Bowen basin, however, there does not appear to be enough additional demand for water supply to warrant construction of another water source in the near future;
- The Burdekin Falls Dam costs $11.5M per annum less than the proposed Urannah dam at delivering the same economic outcome;
- The Urannah dam provides a return of $0.75 for every dollar invested assuming full consumption of water by agriculture and mining.
Burdekin water available at a fraction of the cost
Alternatives to Urannah Dam were investigated and shown to be much more economic. The cost of construction of stage one of the Urannah Dam project has been estimated at $250 million. Raising the wall on the Burdekin Dam by 2 metres would cost $15 million and would deliver more water for irrigators.
The Burdekin Dam currently has 50,000 megalitres per annum of unallocated water available for irrigators. A report by the Department of Natural Resources & Mines has found that a further 66,000 megalitres could be made available by more efficient delivery and use of the Burdekin Falls Dam water.
The cost of delivering the existing unallocated Burdekin Dam water is zero. There is the potential to pipe the water to Townsville and Bowen at a far lower cost than building a new dam. The most significant issue is that nobody has shown an interest in taking up the existing 50,000 megalitres of unallocated water from the Burdekin Dam. There isn’t any justification for building a new dam when all that water is available.
A long history of uneconomic dam proposals
Urannah is just one of many Queensland dams that have been rejected on previous economic analysis. The millions of taxpayer dollars from the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund for dam feasibility studies in Queensland will be wasted.
Experience shows that cost-benefit analyses for dams in Queensland are consistently poor. Here are a few examples:
- Nullinga Dam on the Walsh River near Mareeba was rejected due to the low economic returns and the availability of alternative water supplies
- Paradise Dam in the Burnett Region returns just 40 cents on the dollar
- The Burdekin Falls Dam returns 65 cents for every dollar invested.
- The proposed Nathan Dam on the Dawson River will return 41 cents per dollar invested
- The Connors River Dam south of Mackay was rejected by the Newman Government based on the $1.3 billion construction cost
Dam may never fill
Mackay Conservation Group's research analyst, Patricia Julien, has carefully examined long term rainfall patterns in the catchment of Urannah dam and has concluded that there is a strong likelihood that the Urannah Dam will never fill with water.
It will take a very large rainfall event to fill this dam and those events have become less frequent since the 1990s. Climate change is likely to make our region even drier and Urannah Dam will reduce the flow of water into the Burdekin.
High environmental cost
None of the previous studies have taken into account the substantial environmental cost of building the Urannah Dam including CO2 emissions, loss of habitat, biodiversity, water quality and increased weed invasion.
The Urannah Creek catchment is the home for the unique “bum-breathing” Irwin’s Turtle (Elseya irwini), named after famed naturalist Steve Irwin and discovered by his father, Bob Irwin. The Queensland Government says that “the most important thing that can be done to help this species is to preserve intact native riparian (riverside) vegetation.”
Photos courtesy of Jeff Tan