Hells Gates Dam: Feasible? We Think Not

There is no need for the Hells Gates Dam and it makes no sense! When Townsville faced a water crisis several years ago, all sorts of suggestions were made about the best way to secure a water supply for Townsville. The Hells Gates Dam was suggested by many as the way to guarantee water supply for Townsville, but we disagree.

In response to public concerns about water security, the Townsville Water Security Task Force (TWST) was established in 2017 and submitted its final report in 2018. The report recommended a two stage approach – Stage 1 being a pipeline from the Haughton River Channel to the Ross River Dam and Stage 2 from the Clare Weir to be connected to the existing pipeline at the Haughton River Channel.

This would ensure Townsville’s water needs would be met in the foreseeable future. If ever this supply was found to be inadequate, the TWST Report suggested two possibilities for future augmentation – the first being the raising of the wall of the existing Burdekin Falls Dam – the second the construction of the Hells Gates Dam. The need for these options is unlikely as the water requirements for Townsville will always be much less that the available yield from the Burdekin Dam. But backers for the Hells Gates proposal are putting pressure on all levels of Government.

In November this year (2019) it was announced that a further $24 million will be made available for a business case of the Hells Gates proposal. This  follows a Feasibility Study of the Hells Gates Dam carried out by SMEC Consultants and released in 2018.

The Hells Gates Dam only makes any sort of economic sense if the water is to be used immediately downstream of the dam for agriculture, and makes no sense as a backup water storage for Townsville. The raising of the Burdekin Falls Dam would be the preferred option for any further water storage required for Townsville. Any dam at Hells Gates would reduce water flows in the Upper Burdekin and increase the amount of siltation in the Burdekin Falls Dam.

The Hells Gates Feasibility Study suggests that 50,000 hectares along the upper Burdekin would become available for agriculture. The land to be flattened is of only low to moderate fertility and the only crop that could be economic is sugar cane. There is no economic advantage to Townsville in the Hells Gates proposal. Because the proposal is not economic, it can only proceed if our taxpayer money funds the costs of the dam. A conservative estimate of the cost of the project is $5 billion. Those who will get rich out of the scheme will be the land developers. The farmers who buy the cane plots will struggle because of the low fertility of marginal land along the upper Burdekin and will contribute little to the region’s economy.

The Hells Gates dam proposal comes from a "growth at all costs" mentality. Australian taxpayers and the North Queensland environment will bear all the costs.

The Final Report of the Townsville Water Security Task Force can be downloaded from https://www.watersecuritytownsville.org.au/interim-report

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