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An Olympic dream

By Everald Compton - posted Monday, 2 April 2012


The massive expansion of the BHP mine at Olympic Dam in South Australia is splendid economic news for Australia in terms of job creationand export revenue, as is the impending opening of the Galilee Coal Basin in Queensland which has the potential to become Australia’s largest coal field.

Reports on the 24-hour news cycle tell us that BHP has signed an agreement with the South Australian Government to build a water desalinisation plant near Port Augusta, with pipelines to Olympic Dam at an estimated capital cost of four billion dollars and an annual operating and maintenance cost of $200 million. Some of the water will be used also to meet general water needs in South Australia.

This decision shows once again the unfortunate tendency of State Governments to make decisions in isolation without looking at a solution that will create economic and social opportunities across the nation as well.

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The development of Olympic Dam is occurring at the same time as the Galilee coalmines are preparing to commence their operations, and are implementing their planned rail and port capacity based on Abbott Point at Bowen. All of the proposed mines face problems of considerable magnitude in finding an adequate water supply which will not decimate the water needs of farming and grazing properties in the region.

The fact is that Olympic Dam and the people of South Australia can have their water needs met totally by channeling surplus water south from tropical rivers in the Gulf Country of Queensland at lesser capital and maintenance costs than a power-consuming desalinisation plant, while the same water channels will flow through the Galilee Basin to provide the requirements of the new mines and also enhance rural industries in the region.

At the same time, in the same way, the water system can save the Murray Darling Basin by connecting into a tributary of the Darling at Tambo in Queensland and sending a non-stop supply of water down to the great farming communities of the Riverina and into the Murray, from where it can serve the water-starved fruit growing area of South Australia around Renmark.

Two added benefits are that it will:

  • Keep Lake Eyre permanently filled with water, thus improving the harsh climate of Central Australia, while creating a number of farming and grazing opportunities as water flows towards the lake, such as cotton farming in the Channel Country of Queensland.
  • Open a giant food bowl on the blacksoil plains around Longreach in the central west of Queensland, providing additional food security for Australia and creating for us some new export income by providing fruit and vegetables that Asians require.

After reading of BHP’s announcement about Olympic Dam, I gathered together a small team, including water engineer, Terry Bowring, and bush tourism veteran, John Thompson, to look at all of these projects from a national perspective - rather than being influenced by the insular parochial viewpoints of States.

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We upgraded a lot of our initial thinking on the potential transfer of tropical water to the south that I have outlined in editions of Everald@Large. John Thompson, who knows the bush like the back of his hand, has drawn up a rough ‘mud map’ to give a general idea of the concept as a work in progress. I am sure that this strategy can be vastly improved when some preliminary engineering work and environmental assessments are done.

Our starting point is based on the Gilbert River Aquifer up in the Gulf Country of Queensland. Its water level is 70 metres below its capacity and it can be used as a storage facility for dry years. A channel will be created from the Gilbert and surrounding rivers to fill the aquifer, plus a holding area from which water will flow down the Clarke River into the Burdekin. From the southern end of the Burdekin Dam, a channel will be built through the Galilee Coal Basin down to the headwaters of the Darling River system at Tambo, from where water will flow to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia without any other canal being required.

From Tambo, the Barcoo also runs within a few kilometers of the planned canal, and its water flows into Cooper Creek and down towards Lake Eyre. Just before its water reaches Lake Eyre, it crosses the Birdsville track. A canal will be built south from there and on to Olympic Dam.

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This article was first published in Everald@Large. You can subscribe to Everald@Large by emailing compton@everaldatlarge.com.



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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of ATEC Rail Group Ltd, Surat Basin Rail Pty Ltd, Steel Mississippi Pty Ltd and Tenement to Terminal Pty Ltd. Professionally, he is a Certified Practising Accountant and a Certified Practising Marketer. Subscribe to Everald's monthly newsletter by emailing compton@everaldatlarge.com and follow him on Twitter @EVERALDATLARGE.

He is the former Chairman of National Seniors Australia and has taken-up a new role as Chairman of the Federal Government’s Panel on Positive Ageing. He is also Chairman of the Everald Compton Charitable Trust, an Elder of the Uniting Church and an Honorary Senior Fellow of the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Everald became a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993 and was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for his services to the transport industry.

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