Water Resource Development and High Value Coastal Wetlands on the Lower Burdekin Floodplain, Australia

  • Aaron M. DavisEmail author
  • Stephen E. Lewis
  • Dominique S. O’Brien
  • Zoë T. Bainbridge
  • Christie Bentley
  • Jochen F. Mueller
  • Jon E. Brodie
Part of the Estuaries of the World book series (EOTW)


The lower Burdekin floodplain in north Queensland houses the combination of northern Australia’s largest and most intensively developed agricultural floodplain with one of the largest concentrations of high value freshwater, estuarine and marine wetlands in Australia. The area has a long history of supporting one of Australia’s most economically important sugarcane growing districts, most of which is located upstream of this complex of internationally and nationally significant wetland environments. A unique management feature of agriculture in the region is the total reliance on supplemental flood irrigation to meet crop water demands. Agricultural developments in the catchment area, particularly the establishment of water resource schemes to support this extensive irrigated agriculture, pose significant threats to the integrity of the downstream receiving wetlands. Cumulative (and ongoing) changes to water regimes and the chemistry of both surface and subsurface waters now pose major threats to both the long-term viability of wetlands and large sections of the sugar industry itself. Substantial shifts in societal perceptions and expectations regarding the value of wetlands and water resources at national and global levels are reflected in the lower Burdekin region. The legacy of earlier perceptions and associated policy decision-making are, however, going to provide some of the most enduring management challenges for lower Burdekin coastal wetlands, and ultimately the viability of irrigation areas themselves.


Irrigated agriculture Water quality Hydrology RAMSAR Wet-dry tropics 



The Australian and Queensland Governments and NQ Dry Tropics are acknowledged for funding of sub-catchment and catchment monitoring, under programs including The Coastal Catchments Initiative, Water Quality Improvement Plans and Reef Plan and support from the Reef Rescue Initiative. Data for the upper Barratta Creek site were supplied from the Queensland State Government’s Great Barrier Reef Loads Monitoring program. This research was also supported by the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility, implemented in North Queensland by the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Ltd.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron M. Davis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen E. Lewis
    • 1
  • Dominique S. O’Brien
    • 1
  • Zoë T. Bainbridge
    • 1
  • Christie Bentley
    • 2
  • Jochen F. Mueller
    • 2
  • Jon E. Brodie
    • 1
  1. 1.Catchment to Reef Research Group, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), Australian Tropical Science and Innovation PrecinctJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology (Entox)University of QueenslandCoopers PlainsAustralia

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