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Palmer Dam proposal gains traction but faces a slippery slope

According to a recent media release from David Kempton, Chair of the RDA-FNQTS, the prospect of a major dam on the upper Palmer River has taken a step closer to reality. Kempton declared that $10M was available "to progress the Lakeland Irrigation Scheme business case and advance the project to a shovel-ready stage."

It was not clear if the "announcement", which has come after the start of caretaker mode, is cash in the bank or simply a promise that depends on a Coalition Govt being returned to office. The uncertainty could be cleared up with a phone call, but the Mitchell River Watershed Management Group has not been on the list of stakeholders to date. It is interesting to note that we are not the only ones who might be left feeling uncertain about the funding.

Certainty is what most of the people involved would like to see more of.

The irrigators in Lakeland are keen to gain certainty over their water supply. The handful of residents in Byerstown would like certainty over their future. And the other land managers in the Palmer would like certainty with respect to the impacts of decreased water flows, increased public access, and expanded opportunities in Lakeland.

At this point it is still not certain what scale the development will be. At the recent lmeeting in Lakeland to launch the feasibility report, it was clearly stated that the target is an 8000ha block of properties that make up the "priority agricultural area". But the media release (above) proclaims 8000ML would be used to service over 15,000ha of country, which is nearly double the area (and half the water provided per hectare).

One thing is for certain: any dam project that depends on public (taxpayer) funding faces an uphill battle. Governments of both persuasions will have a hard time if their only arguments sound like the public benefit promises of days gone by. Today's urban voters are far better informed about the elusive promises of trickle-down benefits from government-funded support to business.

Our communities expect ethical governance, real sustainability, evidence of good-paying jobs, and a long-term vision that brings all stakeholders together. Unless the dam proponents can tick these boxes, it is doubtful that the government purse will be on offer.


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