Rising groundwater in the Lower Burdekin

Rising groundwater in parts of the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme is threatening the productivity and sustainability of agriculture in the agriculture-rich Lower Burdekin region in North Queensland.

For a number of years, we have been working closely with local growers and scheme operator, Sunwater, to address the issue using both on-farm and off-farm actions.

Impacts on the region

Sugar cane production in the Lower Burdekin has an annual turnover estimated at between $160 to 180 million. The region has the highest sugar cane yield, in terms of tonnes per hectare productivity, of any region in Australia. Agriculture is the largest employer in the Burdekin local government area, employing over 1,500 people.

Higher groundwater levels can waterlog the soil and increase salinity, reducing the productivity of agricultural land and limiting opportunities for further development. It can also result in additional run-off to sensitive downstream environments (e.g. the Ramsar-listed wetlands at Bowling Green Bay and the Great Barrier Reef).

What we have done so far

In 2017, the Queensland Government commenced a working partnership with local water users and Sunwater to develop a coordinated response to this issues with a discussion paper that was released for public consultation.

Since then, the department has undertaken a social and economic assessment, groundwater modelling and water quality sampling to better understand the issues and the impacts on industry and the environment.

In May 2018, Sunwater worked with local landowners to complete remedial works in Cassidy Creek to address siltation issues that were restricting the flow of water and causing higher groundwater levels. Mitigation works enabled Cassidy Creek to successfully drain and lower the pressure on groundwater levels in the immediate area.

In 2021 Sunwater commenced the Lower Burdekin Rising Groundwater Mitigation Project which will investigate and deliver off-farm actions to contribute to the mitigation of rising groundwater in the region. The four-year, $12.5 million project will use a range of preventative measures and intervention techniques to counter the threat of rising groundwater levels and high-water salinity. Sunwater is working with local grower representatives, agronomists, scientists and government agencies to identify sustainable solutions for areas impacted by rising groundwater.

In late 2022, Sunwater made an application for a further $12.5 million of matching funding under the National Water Grid Fund identified in the Commonwealth’s October 2022-23 budget documents.

Next steps

Using the results of our technical assessments and feedback we’ve received through consultation, we are currently scoping options for further work to address the rising groundwater issues.

For updates or enquiries, please contact 1800 822 100.

View groundwater data for the Burdekin and Haughton basins online via the Water Monitoring Information Portal.

Last updated: 17 Feb 2023