Alluvial water find may deliver Hughenden 1000 jobs

CSIRO investigating alluvial water source in Flinders Shire

Agribusiness
Existing forage crops north west of Hughenden give an idea of how the region could be developed if various water harvesting projects came into being. Picture - Sally Cripps.

Existing forage crops north west of Hughenden give an idea of how the region could be developed if various water harvesting projects came into being. Picture - Sally Cripps.

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If the Flinders Shire Council can scientifically prove the sustainability of an alluvial water source close to its 15 Mile irrigated agriculture project, it predicts 10,000 to 20,000ha of high value crops could be added to Hughenden's economy.

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If the Flinders Shire Council can scientifically prove the sustainability of an alluvial water source close to its 15 Mile irrigated agriculture project, it predicts 10,000 to 20,000ha of high value crops could be added to Hughenden's economy.

That would mean the creation of 1000 jobs.

The shire would need $15 million to buy the land the water has been found on before what's been dubbed 15 Mile 2.0 could proceed.

Councillors and CEO Darryl Buckingham explained the possibilities the water find opened up to LNP Senator Susan McDonald and federal assistant road freight minister Scott Buchholz in Hughenden last week.

Mr Buckingham said the new water source had been identified around four months ago when bores were being sunk for the proposed 918ha 15 Mile high value irrigation plan and questions were asked about what other bores in the vicinity were tapping into.

From those answers plus anecdotal information gleaned, the council believes it could be sitting on a potential 50,000 megalitres of water from a readily replenishable source.

"We know it's not old water because it's got chemicals in it," Mr Buckingham said. "We think it recharges up there on the basalt plain every year when you have your wet."

The alluvial water is only 20m deep so council doesn't anticipate any great expense associated with tapping into it.

It is working with the Far North Queensland Water Authority, who has engaged a CSIRO representative to do the scientific modelling, which it anticipates will be complete within three months.

Mr Buckingham said the CSIRO's involvement meant the testing would be carried out to Australian standards.

The council described the find and the irrigation possibilities as a great stepping stone to the other plans for the region, both the council's high-value 15 Mile project where grapes should be planted next April, and the Hughenden Irrigation Project that was marked last week by the laying of a foundation stone.

"It might take five years for HIPCo to build, given all the processes to go through - it could be nine or 10 years before they're fully underway," Mr Buckingham said.

HIPCo board member Jeff Reid last week said the two projects were dovetailing together, and they expected the original 15 Mile project would supply customers for their own plans.

"This is not blue sky thinking - the beauty of the whole project is that we've already got growers lined up ready to go," Mr Buckingham said.

"There's growers all over Australia who've run out of water. That's why these dam projects are quite popular.

"The market demand is growing and agribusiness is going to be our next $100 billion industry.

"The world needs to be fed and the world wants high quality, high value produce.

"We're in a very unique position where we can do that."

Related: Flinders ag gets coordinated

Mr Buckingham previously worked in the Sunraysia region in precision horticulture, and said the council planned to run a 20km spur pipeline alongside the 15 Mile project to 200ha blocks of land for delivery to ring tanks via a meter.

He described it as a cheap, cost effective model that was also best practice, being piped underground rather than via open water channels.

Unlike the HIPCo project, which anticipates growing forage crops, Mr Buckingham said the council had been speaking with established growers in citrus, grape, dried fruits, asparagus, and garlic industries.

"Grass gives you a $3000/ha return," Mr Buckingham said.

"The best Thompson table grapes give you $25,000/ha at best practice and $7000/ha at worst practice.

"At the end of the day, if you want to become a food bowl or a horticultural precinct, then you don't want to have a monoculture."

He said no government permissions were needed because it would be happening on private land.

"There's no environmental issue, no digging holes, no clearing land to secure it like a dam would, and it's very cheap when you compare the return," he said.

"The dam they're building down south for 50,000ML is at $350m.

"We're only talking $15m. We just need funding.

"It's exciting but we've got to make sure the science is right."

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