Lakeland Irrigation Area Scheme


The Lakeland Irrigation area was established over 70 years ago and boasts deep basalt soils growing a variety of crops. Water availability and security is the major inhibitor to the success and expansion of agriculture in the region.

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy has completed a comprehensive soil and crop analysis of the Lakeland basin as part of the strategic business case. This report identifies numerous opportunities for diversity.

In 2017, Cape York Sustainable Futures (CYSF) received $825,000 (ex GST) to undertake the Lakeland Irrigation Area feasibility study to explore, identify and assess all aspects of expanding and improving agriculture in the LIA. The LIA feasibility study was part of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund (NWIDF), an initiative of the Australian Government. CYSF engaged SMEC and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) to undertake a Water Feasibility Assessment.

Following the closure of CYSF in 2018, RDA FNQ&TS entered into an agreement to deliver the draft and final Strategic Business Case.

The report assessed four options and identified the Palmer River as the most favourable site. The Palmer River flows west to the Mitchell catchment and into the Gulf of Carpentaria. It has been highly degraded by mining over the past century and will leave no impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The water will be pumped from the dam to the top of the Byerstown Range to a holding dam where it will be gravity fed through a hydro plant and distributed to growers by a pipe system. The hydro plant will power the pumps with some potential to return excess to the main grid.

There is presently over 6,000 ha under cropping on freehold land in the Lakeland basin and no further tree clearing is required to achieve maximum utilisation of identified arable land. There is potential for a further 10,000 ha of downstream grazing land to benefit from fodder production.

Benefits to the region include:

  • Access to a reliable and affordable water supply capable of supporting a majority of soils suitable to horticulture and broadacre cropping in the Lakeland Irrigation Area region.
  • Increased volume of water available for agriculture
  • Ability to grow higher value and more diverse range crops in suitable areas
  • Improved confidence of irrigators to invest in long term business operations
  • Benefits to regional business activity and prosperity through increased agricultural activity and the creation of 1000 construction jobs followed by 1200 FTE positions on completion.

RDATN has worked with Federal and State Governments to progress the project further, receiving $10m in funding to undertake the detailed business case in May 2020. SMEC has been appointed as the principle project manager. The DBC is due for completion September 2022.


Key features of the project:

  • 195,000 ML dam
  • 80,000 ML pa yield
  • 8,000 ha high value crops (16,000 ha indirect)
  • 1,000 construction jobs
  • 1,200 FTE on completion