Opportunities to expand irrigated agriculture in northern Australia will be assessed under a $15 million program now being conducted by the CSIRO.
Water resource assessments of the Mitchell River basin in north Queensland; the Finniss, Adelaide, Mary and Wildman river basins in the Darwin region; and the Fitzroy River basin in Western Australia are now underway.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, and Minister for Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, said the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment is designed to ensure that any future investment in water infrastructure delivers genuine returns at the farmgate, increases the capacity and productivity of agricultural industries and strengthens regional communities.
“Northern Australia has huge potential for economic development, including in agriculture, aquaculture and mining,” Mr Joyce said.
“For example, there are millions of hectares of soil that, with access to suitable water resources, could potentially support irrigated agriculture.
“These assessments will help us unlock this potential by providing a comprehensive evaluation of the feasibility, economic returns and sustainability of water infrastructure in each of these regions by undertaking comprehensive scientific analysis and modelling, and identifying and testing the commercial viability of development opportunities such as irrigated agriculture, aquaculture, forestry and mining.”
Minister Canavan said more than half of Australia’s rainfall occurs in Northern Australia but it remains largely unused.
“Developing these water resources would remove one of the constraints holding Northern Australia back,” he said.
“The Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment will provide a detailed picture of what resources are available and where, giving us a solid understanding of the scale and nature of the opportunities for development.
“You can’t develop what you don’t measure. This work will build on the CSIRO’s recent assessment of the potential of the Flinders and Gilbert Rivers in the Gulf. These are already helping spur investor interest and the allocation of water in these systems.
“In addition to the $15 million for Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment, we are also investing a total of $10 million in feasibility studies to look at expanding the Ord irrigation scheme into the Northern Territory (Ord Stage 3) and the construction of the Nullinga Dam in Queensland.”
The assessments are funded as part of the $500 million National Water Infrastructure Development Fund under the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia and Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, and would contribute to regional growth in the north for many years to come.
The Fund comprises $50 million to start the detailed planning necessary to build new water infrastructure, and $450 million for capital works.
$200 million of the Fund is being directed to projects across the north of Western Australia and Queensland, and the Northern Territory.
The CSIRO will be working closely with northern state and territory government agencies, local communities and key industry partners in the delivery of these resource assessments.
Source: Ministers for Agriculture and Northern Australia. Further information on the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment can be found at www.csiro.au/en/Research/Major-initiatives/Northern-Australia/Current-work/NAWRA.