CATCHMENT ZONES: A comparison between the two catchment areas, one for Gladstone Area Water Board’s proposed Rookwood Weir in blue and the existing Lake Awoonga in pink.
CATCHMENT ZONES: A comparison between the two catchment areas, one for Gladstone Area Water Board’s proposed Rookwood Weir in blue and the existing Lake Awoonga in pink. Gladstone Area Water Board

Dam good opportunity

CHEAP labour and the chance of some government cash has Gladstone Area Water Board pulling its plans for the Rookwood Weir and Gladstone Fitzroy pipeline off the shelf and into construction.

The weir and pipeline will relieve pressure on Lake Awoonga in times of drought and industrial growth.

With Lake Awoonga near capacity since the drought broke in 2003, the project had been shelved until the construction cost was considered low enough.

And the time is now; with layoffs at QAL and construction all but complete on Curtis Island, the tender process is expected to be hotly contested.

The competition should drive down the cost to construct the weir that Gladstone Area Water Board chief executive Jim Grayson is determined to build.

"Our customers pay for this so we had to pick a time when it wouldn't cost as much and now is the time."

The $300 million construction of the weir would create 200 full time jobs for two years and the pipeline from the weir to Gladstone would cost $500 million and employ about 400 people.

The proposed weir at Rookwood Crossing, near the small town of Riverlea more than two hours north- west of Gladstone, could hold a fraction of the water of Lake Awoonga but because it has a much greater catchment area it can provide the same amount of water per year, for the 100 year life of the weir.

Currently, GAWB uses 60,000 mega litres out of the 78,000ML it is allowed to sell, which doesn't leave much room for growth, according to Mr Grayson.

If built, GAWB will take 30,000ML, Rockhampton City Council will take another share and the rest would go to irrigators.

Mr Grayson's next job is to lock down irrigation contracts to ensure the weir pays for itself and he will find out at the end of March if he gets $7 million from the Federal Governments' water infrastructure development fund to do that.

If he can lock down contracts, Mr Grayson hopes to subsidise the construction through the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Investment Fund.

This week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took an aerial tour of the site and said the viability depended on land values.

"You've got to look at this infrastructure in a holistic way and look at the value it's creating," he said.

Mr Grayson said the project would create opportunities with irrigation leading to diversity in agriculture which could be exported out of the Gladstone Port and provide security, since about 70% of its water is used by Gladstone's industries.