The Queensland government has announced plans to release 145,000 megalitres of water into the Flinders River by the end of the year, with irrigators and mining companies competing for allocations.
More than 180,000 megalitres has been released in the area in the past five years, and a number of politicians and landholders have proposed cropping as the next economic frontier in the state's north-west.
Water Minister Glenn Butcher toured the area earlier this year looking at potential irrigation developments near Julia Creek, Richmond and Hughenden.
Mr Butcher said while all of the proposed sites he visited would be considered in the next round of allocations, irrigators were competing with mining companies for the water.
"We want to make sure the best projects and the ones that are more advanced will get priority as they go forward," he said.
"There's also a mine that's looking to set up on that system as well, we will open it up and go to all of those prospective customers."
With three of the projects asking for about 100,000 megalitres each, Mr Butcher said the governments would be looking at them in the coming months.
"By the end of the year we will have all those companies or proposals that have come forward into the department and assessed and then we'll be able to make decision on the most viable ones," he said.
Growing interest in cropping
While few landholders in the Flinders River grow crops, many are hoping the burgeoning industry will develop the north-west Queensland economy.
The area has seen a shift in the past two years with several farmers from New South Wales buying into the area and growing crops mostly without irrigation.
Meanwhile, Etta Plains station north of Julia Creek, which was purchased with a water license by the Findley family in 2019, has been developed into irrigated farmland, creating excitement among the proponents of area's burgeoning cropping industry.
Cloncurry Shire Mayor Greg Campbell said he hoped the family's work on Etta Plains would result in governments having more faith in developing the area.
"It's chicken and egg stuff, to get an industry going you need an economy of scale and somebody has to take the lead," Cr Campbell said.
"We're seeing that with Etta Plains, the Findleys are fair dinkum, and hopefully more people will follow once they get established."
Farming and mining looking for water
The Cloncurry Shire Council has the delicate position of delegating water, with a large mining industry and a proposed dam site among those competing for allocations.
Cr Campbell said the two industries should not be competing for water and there should be enough for all of them to operate.
"I dare say a mining company will pay a lot more than what farming can afford," he said.
"Mining has been around in the Cloncurry area for over 150 years and will be around for a fair while to come.
"But each individual project comes and goes, whereas a well set up farming project will be here for a long time it's a lot more sustainable.
"We'd like to see some balance where the long term future comes from having a good mix of industries."
© ABC 2021
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