Economic analysis of new dam infrastructure in Australia

Urannah creek

Photo credit: Jeff Tan - https://urannah.com.au/about/

Client: Mackay Conservation Group | June-July 2020

Mackey Conservation Group

Challenge

The proposed Urannah dam in regional north Queensland in Australia will flood the Country of the Wiri and Birri peoples of the Birri Gaba Nation. The broader impacts of the dam include enabling expansion of the region's coal mining industry.

These investments are politically popular in regional electorates, but generally do not represent good value for money. The push to construct new dams for subsidised irrigation water will likely lead to an expansion of agricultural activities in catchments that flow in the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is already under existential threat from poor water quality and climate change.

Construction of new dams also has broader environmental impacts, such as interrupting environmental flow regimes, which can affect breeding habits of aquatic animals, blocking fish migration routes, loss of habitat from inundation and greenhouse gas emissions from rotting vegetation in the flooded area.

Alternatively, similar levels of government investments in schemes to help farmers invest in improved agricultural practices have historically led to much greater returns on investment.

Actions

The Mackay Conservation Group has engaged Altus Impact to undertake an economic analysis of the business case for the Urannah dam, particularly to incorporate the social costs of its construction and operations, particularly in promoting significant coal export development at a time when the economics of further fossil fuel development is questionable and the potential for environmental damage is significant.

We also interrogated a number of key policy documents and infrastructure investment frameworks and data sources for the costs and benefits associated with investments in sustainable agriculture.

Impact

This project will proceed in mid-2020.