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A new ‘drought-busting’ Bradfield Scheme for Queensland?

Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP) is backing a plan to divert floodwater from the state’s north to provide drought relief and boost agricultural production in its south and west.

The New Bradfield Scheme is based on the original plan, devised by engineer John Bradfield in the 1930s, to move floodwater from the Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers in the north, down to Lake Eyre using a system of dams, pumps and pipes.

However, unlike Bradfield’s more famous design – the Sydney Harbour Bridge – the ambitious scheme never got off the ground. It has been criticised on scientific, engineering and economic grounds.

Rather than the water draining into Lake Eyre in South Australia, as Bradfield proposed, LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said the new scheme would divert water into Queensland’s Warrego River and the northern Murray-Darling Basin, where it would be reserved for use by southern Queensland farmers. 

It would also generate thousands of megawatts of power through a series of hydro-electric plants

“The New Bradfield Scheme is an entirely new drought-busting infrastructure project that will deliver massive benefits to Queensland,” Frecklington said.

“I’m backing the New Bradfield Scheme because it will create new jobs, provide water for our farmers, generate green hydro-electric power and reduce nutrient run-off into the [Great Barrier] Reef.”

The scheme would involve almost doubling the height of the proposed Hell’s Gate Dam on the upper Burdekin River to over 120 m, making it the largest dam ever built in the state. 

The water would be used to irrigate about 80,000 square km of farmland, creating what Frecklington called a “new foodbowl” on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. 

In October, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was open to having a conversation about the Bradfield Scheme with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

She said didn’t believe the scale of the initial plan could work in Queensland today, but that the viability of a smaller version and the potential environmental impacts should be explored.

"Perhaps we need to work with the Federal Government to see if we can do any planning together, for example, when it comes to a smaller version of the Bradfield scheme," she said.

If elected in October next year, Frecklington said the LNP would commit $20 million to a CSIRO advanced planning study of the New Bradfield Scheme.