Lakeland Irrigation Area Scheme

Benefits to the region include:

  • Access to a reliable, adequate and affordable water supply capable of supporting a majority of soils suitable to horticulture and broadacre cropping in the Lakeland Irrigation Area.
  • 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
  • Potential increase in population with a wider range of community services


The Lakeland Irrigation area was established over 70 years ago and boasts rich 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. At present less than 2,000ha is being irrigated.  Lakeland is situated in the Laura River basin draining into the Great Barrier Reef.

The Department of Resources 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 then Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) to undertake a Land and Soil Assessment.   A total of 17,115 ha of irrigable land was identified in the area.

The report assessed four options, identifying the Palmer River at the headwaters of the Mitchell River catchment as the most favourable site.  The Palmer River, a tributary of the Mitchell River, flows west into the Gulf of Carpentaria and avoids the prospect of a major dam, on a river flowing to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

Following the closure of the Cape York Sustainable Futures (CYSF) in 2018, RDA Tropical North (then RDAFNQ&TS) entered into an agreement to deliver the draft and final Strategic Business Case-Technical Feasibility Report.

RDATN has worked with Federal and State Governments to progress the project further, receiving $10m in funding to undertake the Detailed Business Case (DBC).

SMEC was appointed as the principal project manager and a Reference Group was established to provide feedback to the detailed business case.  The DBC investigated the viability of infrastructure as well as the economic viability of supplying water to the Lakeland farms. The current proposal is to construct a dam up to 296,000ML with an annual offtake up to 105,000ML. The reference design defines the method of transfer of water from the dam by either surface pipes or a tunnel, which is preferred.  An indicative distribution scheme is also included.

The scheme will service up to 10,000Ha of arable freehold land with no further tree clearing required.

The project will provide both economic and social benefits to a sparsely populated area with potential for growth in population and services.

The Detailed Business Case, including a detailed submission from RDATN has now been completed; it has been lodged with the Queensland State Government Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water as well as the Commonwealth’s National Water Grid Authority and is now publically available.  

LIAS News and Community Info (Last updated: MAY 2024)
LIAS Frequently Asked Questions (Last updated: MAY 2024)
About the Project (LIAS)
Q:  What does the project involve? A: SMEC was engaged by RDATN to investigate the viability of building a dam approximately 23 km south-west of Lakeland on the Palmer River and water supply scheme to Lakeland.
This unique opportunity to capture a proportion of high-water flows in the upper Palmer River to substantially expand the existing commercially established horticultural industry and generate employment and prosperity throughout the region.
Q: What benefits will the project bring? A: The LIAS would provide a reliable supply of water to unlock the rich basalt soils of the area for high value agriculture. 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.
Q: What are the potential impacts? A: There are potential environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts and opportunities associated with the water supply scheme. The DBC provides a scientific and evidence-based assessment of these potential impacts.
Q: Where is the project up to now? A: Following completion of the DBC, the on-going advocacy of the project rests with those bodies with direct involvement or benefits from the project. These include; Cook Shire Council as the Local Government authority for development of much of the Lakeland area; the Growers who will be the most significant investors in the agricultural area and responsible for costs associated with agriculture; The Western Yalanji people who will participate in establishment of the scheme, construction and maintenance activities as well as economic and cultural benefits ‘on-country’.
Q: What are the next steps? A: Government at all levels are asked to accept the scheme as a major development facility to benefits both agricultural expansion, as well as contributing to significant community and ‘closing the gap’ opportunities for Lakeland, Cook Shire and greater Cape York. The project requires the following to progress to implementation:
• Acknowledgement that development of Lakeland irrigation to its fullest extent be recognised as a significant strategic initiative for economic development of regional Queensland and CYP
• Incorporation of the Lakeland Irrigation Area water requirement into the proposed new Mitchell Water Plan
• The Scheme be treated as for other irrigation areas where only operating costs are recovered
• Resolution of the funding split between Government and private sources to allow determination of one or more project proponents
Progression of detailed design and an Environmental Impact Statement to allow the project to progress to consideration of the Coordinator General for approvals..
 About the Detailed Business Case (DBC)
Q: What are potential Aboriginal cultural heritage impacts and proposed management measures? A: In our assessment, we have considered impacts and benefits to Aboriginal corporations with Native Title Determination and land tenure, and Aboriginal communities through a Social Impact Evaluation. While archaeological research in and around the project area is limited, a desktop Cultural Heritage assessment carried out for the project concluded there is high risk that the project area contains Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Should the Government support the proposal, a range of measures must be implemented to mitigate potential impacts of the project on Aboriginal cultural heritage, including early and ongoing engagement with Aboriginal parties, carrying out cultural heritage field assessments, developing a cultural heritage management plan and inductions and unexpected finds protocol.
Where possible, access to places and sites of cultural importance would be maintained, and storylines and songlines would be protected and enhanced. This may include relocating artefacts to a proposed cultural centre, harvesting timber from the inundation area, and utilising heritage entitlements to water.
During construction, the proponent could offer targeted employment and training programs, such as Environmental Management and Ranger roles, and reduce barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suppliers.
Q: How has the Social Impact Evaluation been carried out? A: The Social Impact Evaluation sought to understand what value the project could bring, identify negative impacts that need to be mitigated, and opportunities to create additional value. The proposal has the potential to bring social benefits and value, but could also generate negative impacts for Palmer River Dam area landholders and Traditional Owner groups. Further consultation and detailed environmental assessments would be carried out should the project receive Government support and approval.
Q: What are potential property impacts, assessment of impacts and proposed management measures for inundation area landholders? A: The dam and inundation area is likely to result in impacts for several private properties and landholders. Impacts may include inundation of private land, loss of infrastructure, reduced productivity and loss of accessibility. These impacts may be temporary or permanent.
Consultation with potentially affected landholders is ongoing, and inputs will help build an understanding of impacts. If the proposal receives Government support and a proponent for construction is nominated, the proponent would consult and negotiate with affected landholders to identify all potential impacts.
Negotiation would follow a structured process to ensure infrastructure owners can raise issues and discuss mitigation in a fair and transparent way. After negotiating and reaching agreement, landholders would be compensated for property impacts, impacts on land value or business value.
In some instances, partial or full property acquisition would be required. This would be carried out according to a statutory process including negotiation and compensation for landholders. Infrastructure (such as fences, roads and dams) would be replaced on partially acquired properties where necessary to mitigate potential impacts.
Q: What are potential property impacts, assessment of impacts and proposed management measures for scheme infrastructure landholders? A: The LIAS includes construction of the dam and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, pumping and valve stations, power supply and communications facilities and access roads and tunnel outlets. This infrastructure may be located on private property and is likely to result in impacts for several landholders. Wherever possible, project infrastructure would be located within existing easements and road corridors to reduce landholder impacts.
The proponent may need to establish new easements over infrastructure areas, or partially or fully acquire properties to provide ongoing access and usage rights for land containing project infrastructure. This would be carried out according to a statutory process including negotiation. Negotiation would follow a structured process to ensure landholders can raise issues and discuss mitigation and compensation in a fair and transparent way.
Q: What are the potential impacts to flora and fauna and proposed management measures? A: Many impacts to terrestrial ecology values can be mitigated through standard industry practices and procedures, however clearing of vegetation for the dam, inundation area and irrigation area remains an unavoidable substantial impact. Palmer River is classed as a major waterway for waterway barrier works, therefore it is essential that the project provides both upstream and downstream fish passage. Discussions with DAF (State) to achieve this have occured.
The dam inundation areas mostly comprise woodlands defined as of ‘least concern’; however, the irrigation infrastructure component of the project would impact extensive areas of regulated vegetation, including up to 68 Ha of “of concern” regional ecosystems. Substantial environmental offsets would be required. Further detailed environmental assessments would be carried out should the project receive Government support and approval.
Q: Has consultation been carried out for the project? A: Community and stakeholder engagement is an ongoing project priority. During the development of the DBC we met with key stakeholders, including landholders, growers, Traditional Owner groups, mining leaseholders, local business and Government departments as well as the community. We’ve used feedback to inform the development of the DBC. Engagement with stakeholders and the community regarding the project and potential impacts iwll be on-going.
Q: Is the DBC on public display? A: A consolidated version of the DBC is available online via the RDATN dedicated webpage (Link to Follow).  This will also be available via the Cook Shire Council website in due course.   This version has been redacted of personal information to ensure privacy provisions are met, but otherwise the document contains all relevant technical data. In addition, individual section reports are available through the DRDMW website. (Follow this Link)