We're partnering with the Australian Government to investigate opportunities for water and agriculture development in the Roper River catchment, in the Northern Territory.

Northern Australia makes a substantial contribution to the Australian economy, especially through agriculture, mining and tourism.

There are opportunities to unlock significant new investment in the north. This will require confidence about the scale and nature of the opportunities and understanding the risk involved. Millions of hectares are potentially suitable for irrigated agriculture across northern Australia but access to water is one of several constraints to development.

The Roper River is a large, perennial flowing river in the north east of the Northern Territory. Image: CSIRO.

Following the successful Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment, the Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment, and our work in the Roper River with the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields project, we have been engaged by the Australian Government to assess the opportunities for water and agricultural development in the Roper River catchment in the Northern Territory.

The Roper River Water Resource Assessment will provide a comprehensive and integrated evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of water and agricultural development in the Roper River catchment. We will work with the Northern Territory government, research partners and communities to complete this assessment by June 2022.

Much of northern Australia’s land and water resources have not been mapped in sufficient detail to provide for reliable resource allocation, mitigate investment or environmental risks, or build policy settings that can support decisions

Assessment goals 

Through the Roper River Water Resource Assessment, we will:

  • evaluate the soil and water resources
  • identify and evaluate water capture and storage options
  • identify and test the commercial viability of irrigated agricultural and aquaculture opportunities
  • assess potential environmental, social and economic impacts and risks of water resource and irrigation development. 

While agricultural developments may be the most likely to proceed in the foreseeable future, the Assessment will also consider opportunities for and intersections between different types of potential water-dependent development. For example, the Assessment will explore the nature, scale, location and impacts of developments relating to tourism and agriculture development in relevant locations. 

The Roper River has one of the largest river catchment areas in northern Australia. Image: CSIRO

Assessment activities

This is a complex project, drawing on the capabilities of our scientists across Australia.

Our key activities include:

  • surface water modelling, to assess the volume and reliability of river flow
  • topographic mapping and automated terrain analysis to identify and evaluate water storage and development options
  • mapping land and soil suitability and production risks across agricultural, horticultural, bush foods and pastoral systems and for aquaculture developments
  • assessing cropping and crop-forage-livestock systems with potential to generate attractive investment returns
  • cost-benefit analysis for multiple uses and users of water
  • identifying logistical and value chain assets, opportunities and bottlenecks
  • understanding the trade-offs between water resource development and freshwater environments
  • identifying Indigenous aspirations and water values
  • examining the potential for co-benefits to other industries (i.e. tourism) arising from irrigated agriculture
  • information and data distribution through Web-based information products, reports and regular community-based information sessions.

The Roper River Water Resource Assessment is an initiative of the Australian Government.

Driving across the Roper River, Northern Territory. Image: CSIRO

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