THE region’s water security took a major hit last week after the State Government announced that they would be pursuing alternative options for the Nullinga Dam development site after a detailed business case determined its water would cost five or six times more than any prospective users could afford.
Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the State Government will pursue other water supply options to support development and jobs and lock down the dam site as a precautionary measure for the future.
“We’re doing our bit for Far North Queensland,” he said.
“The Morrison Government have said they can fully fund this project and now there’s nothing stopping them.
Dr Lynham said the State Government continued to support expansion of irrigated agriculture as an essential part of the Queensland economy.
“Sunwater is progressing the $28 million project to modernise the existing open channel irrigation scheme on the Tablelands, including with channel lining, new meters and better electronics,” he said.
“It’s forecast to save more than 8000 mega litres of water alone. That’s more water that farmers can actually afford for more crops.
“Sunwater and the Government will work with local irrigators to identify more affordable water projects like this to ensure industry can expand and create jobs.”
It could prove a huge blow for Far North Queensland, as prominent politicians and leaders hold grave concerns for the region’s continued expansion without a new-found water source.
Despite those trepidations, Dr Lynham said the Palaszczuk Government recognised that there might be strategic benefits for Far North Queensland in preserving the site.
“The Co-ordinator General and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy are working on the best way to do this now.” he said.
Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter supported the State Government’s decision, expressing his relief that the Nullinga Dam has been taken off the table as a solution to Cairns’ water security future.
“Southern Cairns, which I represent, needs water badly, if it’s going to expand. It cannot get water from Nullinga,” he said.
“This is a lie perpetrated by a whole stack of people, and it is a lie because we are never going to pull the water from Nullinga, which is on the other side of the Great Dividing Range, into Cairns.
“Clearly, the people that are telling you these lies intend to take water from Tinaroo and that’s farmers’ water.
“The farmers can’t get the water from Nullinga because they would have to pump it up hill – they can’t afford to do that.”
Mr Katter went on to explain the more reasonable solution of the North Johnstone Transfer.
“The bigger picture was always the North Johnstone Transfer,” he said.
By raising the Tinaroo dam, in conjunction with the North Johnstone Transfer, Mr Katter believes that Innisfail will be provided with some protection against future flooding events and provide farmers with an emergency supply.
“We want some long-term development of the water for Cairns and I don’t think there’s any alternative but to look at Flaggy Creek and to look at Rifle Creek,” he said.
Chair of the Mareeba-Dimbulah Irrigation Council Joe Moro said he is not surprised by the State Government’s announcement.
“This was not unexpected,” he said.
“What we need to see happen is both the Federal and State Governments come together on this development to come up with $800 million to fund this project.
“And we want that figure of $800 million to be reached with no strings attached.”
Mr Moro said Nullinga Dam is crucial for the expansion and prosperity of the region longterm.
“We saw the economic benefits that were achieved with the Tinaroo Dam,” he said.
“The Nullinga Dam can provide similar benefits over a long period of time if the State and Federal Governments are realistic and patient when implementing the project.
“Industry on the Tablelands is worth over $500 million and this dam has a chance to further add to that.”