Possible Kimberley region nation building dam projects

The purpose of this post is to draw attention to the Durack Development web page of David Archibald and to promote some discussion.
We know that much of the West Kimberley region in Western Australia gets over a metre of warm season rain per year and total river outflows are listed at a huge 80,000GL PA. So is it feasible to build dams and grow irrigated crops in the Kimberley’s on this scale – in the face of modern day Green anti – damism, backed by serial ranks of publically funded kneejerk PC naysayers and then at the back of all that – native title issues.

For full size map.
What could viable Kimberley irrigation projects mean in terms of northern development and net national income. I wonder what is the best structure to attempt this – would private investors stump up the capital once the multitude of project approvals was obtained.
Link here for docs outlining the West Kimberley Grain Project and other potential WA projects.
The Ord River Irrigation Area in the East Kimberley is an interesting case history and there must be many lessons there.

24 thoughts on “Possible Kimberley region nation building dam projects”

  1. Sadly I fear that in this era of political correctness and green religion, it’s unlikely any government or entrepreneur would have the appetite to seriously consider such a visionary development.

    But, if my ears didn’t deceive me, in recent days I heard the four letter word “dams” uttered by one Tony Abbott? Could it be that we will not have to wait until the Chinese take over before we again see visionary infrastructure development in this country?

  2. Maybe this project could be spearheaded by Gina? Just small change and a middle finger to the pollies.

  3. If I put a link to this page on my site, you could be deluged with comment, some of which could be vitriolic, I’m afraid. I guess you are seeking comment, as you state in your post above. After reading Jack Fletcher’s “Dam or be Damned, a series of smaller dams may help to avoid some flooding problems down stream. Dimond Gorge was his, and Sir Charles Court’s choice, but environmentalists, and Whitlam, saw red.
    There have been times when the Fitzroy River has not even flowed, twice that I know of in the last 20 years. Then when it floods, it can be over 20 kilometers wide for weeks. Just ask Jack, and his predecessors who tried to tame the River with levees, first to grow rice, and latterly, sorghum for the lot-feeding of cattle.
    David Archibald is a brave man.

  4. I omitted to say that Native Title has been granted, or applied for over the whole of the catchment areas listed.
    Some of the pastoral leases in this area are also owned, and operated, by Indigenous interests, including the Aboriginal Lands Trust and Indigenous Land Corporation. The Pastoral Lands Board is also another powerful enterty, as is the IPA (Indigenous Protected Area) and NRM (National Rangelands Management).
    Many of the sacred sites are connected to Gorges and mountains where dams would need to be sited.
    And then there is Environs Kimberley, a strong and committed Environmental Organization.
    A very interesting post

  5. I’m afraid it won’t political correctness or green religion that puts an end to such “visionary development” – it will be scientific rigour and plain old common sense. In February 2010, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce released a report. This was a taskforce that wanted to find good news. It had Bill Heffernan as its chairman. Here is a paragraph on ITS FIRST PAGE:

    “The north is not a vacant land. It needs to be actively managed for resilience and sustainability, based on a contemporary and informed understanding of the complexities of the landscape and its people. Contrary to popular belief, water resources in the north are neither unlimited, nor wasted. Equally, the potential for northern Australia to become a ‘food bowl’ is not supported by evidence.”

  6. I think you guys have to stand back and take a broad approach to this. Name me any nation in the marvellous history of western civilisation which has got itself great – or ever made good by locking away productive lands.
    People who want the Kimberley’s to be simply some huge protected park are losing sight of the march of history. Look at the booming population to our north and the growth of global population which must impact on food supplies eventually. Do you really think that 25million selfish people with sky high living standards clinging to a small area of the continent will be able to prevent the north being occupied and developed for all time ? History suggests that would be unlikely – and common sense tells us that those future hypothetical developers would pay scant regard to envirnmental standards that we have in place. So I think it is better that we quietly develop the northern tropics and build population there. That would be the best overall outcome for everybody, would help underpin the great future of Australia and let us keep control of environmental standards.

  7. I agree with Tom Harley. History tells the story of the Kimberley regarding food production around the river systems. If you want to kill the beauty of the Kimberley by all means dam it and invite the geese to eat the grain. While your’e at it why not sell it all off to the Chinese so that they can feed their people in China. That is what is happening in all agricultural areas in Australia at the moment. Yes we are short sighted, and yes we will all be starving by 2020 because China will own everything soon. Including the oil and gas.

  8. Tom Harley, please link if you see fit. If you have any other proposals for Durack, please email them to me and I will include them as projects that future governments should proceed with. Late in the resources cycle, our governments are preoccupied with vanity projects that have no economic value (not including the effect of destroying wealth).

    Beachgirl: The reason for my starting the Durack Development site was that conservatives like me generally know what we don’t like, but find it hard to articulate what we do like. Myself, I like dams and roads, so I thought I would start with those and then move on to more esoteric subjects later. I particularly like my proposal to fertilise Shark Bay with tonnes of ferrous sulphate. It is a plan of great merit.

    Another reason I put the Durack site together is that John Lewis, who wrote the report on Kimberley dam potential in 1964 (48 years ago!), gave me an original copy of his report. I knew I had been given something precious, so I put an economic front end on it and made a home for it on the net. Now it will live forever. My guess is that this simple act will bring forward the building of those dams by 10 years.

  9. Thanks, David, I will have a look, John Lewis was the only bureaucrat that Jack Fletcher really respected, above anyone else, including bankers and politicians alike. My eldest brother managed Liveringa in the ’60s and my father worked for Jack Fletcher, and his predecessor David Shilling at Camballin in the 60’s and ’70’s. They were tough days…

  10. It’s a pity the media trashed the Liberals plan to build a canal from the north to provide water for the SW. The $10 billion price tag would have been paid for by the beachfront property opened up for development by a good water supply.

    Anyone who has drank the water in places like Coral Bay will know what I am talking about.

  11. a bit o/t but a don’t miss in Quadrant Online

    Climate Review: I

    by Bob Carter

    February 6, 2012


    In a major three part series Professor Bob Carter covers the most important events which influenced the climate debate in 2011. Quadrant Online publishes the first part today and the remaining two parts will be published during the coming week.

  12. A canal is a ridiculous idea for moving water around in the tropics, what would happen in years when the rivers don’t flow which happens more regularly than you think. The irrigation canals are now beset by masses of weeds and weed trees such as Leucaena and Neem trees around Kununurra, at least the Argyle Dam has plenty of water. Leaks and the evaporation problems also affect canals, including those around the SWest Irrigation areas too. If Barnett had come up with something better, he may not have lost that election to Labor, but the canal idea shot his credibility to bits. Rainfall in the North can either bucket down inches an hour, or sometimes not at all. One recent wet season, only 100mm was received in Broome, and the Fitzroy hasn’t flowed twice since then. In the early 20th Century, the river was very high and 50 km wide during one wet season. Cyclone Bobby left some valleys between sand dunes in the Great Sandy Desert flooded for 2 to 3 years…
    Read Jack Fletcher’s “Dam or be Damned”.
    In about 1997, Broome had almost 500mm in 5 hours.

  13. If only the followers of Ludd would allow us to build dams again in all of Australia, we could create a future again in this country and save a lot of money on idle de-salination plants too.

  14. There is also the Qld to Murray Darling pipeline which could double the Murray-Darling flows. And there is the Lake Eyre Inland Sea idea – dig a 30 metre deep 300km trench from Port Augusta to Lake Eyre and we would create a massive inland sea the size of Tasmaia.

  15. As someone born and bred in the outback (half way between Charleville and Quilpie) I deplore the lack of dams in Australia
    I was a jillaroo on my father’s property in the early eighties (and was bought up there) and I know how much water mattered to the livestock
    My father’s attitude was build dams not in the river catchment (ours was the Paroo) and that will divert the grazing of the livestock
    and what Tom Harley says about water stagnating in non flowing canals I can attest to from my experience in digging out bore canals when the bore was turned on and when it was turned off
    I think David has the right view; water when it falls or flows should be saved; I live in Toowoomba and I remember when Garrett refused the Mary River Dam Development because of danger to the lungfish even nothwithstanding there was a ladder on which those fish could go up (or down)
    but when property rights including native title are concerned I don’t know what the proposal could be; after all native title owners are adjusted to getting monetary rewards for their ownership and that right doesn’t always coincide with what benefits the nation as a whole
    well I’m no scientist unlike David and Warwick; only talking from my personal experience

  16. The plan was for a covered canal. Essentially a big concrete pipe. The evaporation and weed infestation criticisms aren’t valid.

    As for the variable flow of the Fitzroy. It really doesn’t matter as Perth dams when full have 3 to 4 years of water supply. And the canal would allow the dams to be progressively filled.

  17. The “nation building” projects need to be looked at and conducted very carefully.

    To make use of more of the resources of the North-West for the benefit of WA and all of Australia makes intrinsic sense. The devil is in the detail. Details like which resources and how?

    We can too easily draw up plans of what we want, in ignorance of the value of things that would be lost, perhaps blind to unintended consequences; or failing to take into account what could go horribly wrong.

    To that end, I don’t support lack of action.

    Rather; I very much prefer carefully-considered, incremental action where each stage of implementation looks ahead to the objective from its completed, real-world perspective perspective. A period of years might be necessary in some cases under which the effect on typical, natural variability can be observed. That allows us to correct our views (diminish illusion) of how the natural and human environments respond to the change. It also provides an opportunity to ameloirate unintended consequences and to adjust the plans for the next stage. And, not least, perhaps discover unimagined opportunities.

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