A SYDNEY man has devised a $9 billion plan to shift water from the Burdekin and other major east-flowing rivers in north Queensland to the parched inland areas of NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
The plan proposes to channel about 4000 gigalitres of water south annually, with about 60 per cent used by farmers for irrigation and the rest for domestic use in the cities such as Toowoomba, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Some water would also be allocated to improve environmental flows in river systems like the Murray.
Chemical engineer Terry Bowring said yesterday the project would remove the future need for expensive desalination plants in Brisbane and Sydney.
He said the plan was similar to the old Bradfield scheme proposed in 1933 but no one had taken the idea as far as he had with costings.
``I've been dealing with government people,'' he said. ``Nothing's been approved but it has been costed.''
The system would use canals rather than piping, which had been calculated to be too expensive.
The system would take six years to build, be about 1800km long and take just four to five years to recover its costs. Mr Bowring said the world's next boom market would be food and unless Australia had adequate water to fuel production it would miss out.
He hoped the Federal Government would finance his scheme.
The idea comes as cuts to southern irrigators' water allocations were announced last week by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Mr Bowring said canals worked well in the US and when it was considered that the Government proposed to spend $8 billion on water buy-backs, his scheme was not overly expensive.
He proposed water be sold at $600 a megalitre.
The system would have on-going energy costs because in some places water would have to be lifted across high country.
Mr Bowring said the scheme also could channel water from the Gulf country and water could be obtained from as far north in Queensland as the Herbert River.
An average 29,000 gigalitres of fresh water flows from the Burdekin on to the Great Barrier Reef each year and Mr Bowring's scheme would harvest just 13 per cent of this.
``Last year more water went to sea from the Burdekin than the Murray-Darling Basin and all city dams combined,'' he said.
Mr Bowring said he accepted that many people would oppose his idea but he was convinced it would also have many influential supporters.
``We're only going to take that water going to sea,'' he said. ``We don't expect an easy ride but we are not trying to damage anything. We don't want the Murray and Murrumbidgee to dry up.'' Is this a pipe dream or an idea whose time has finally come?