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There are opportunities to unlock significant new investments in the north. This will require confidence about the scale and nature of the opportunities and understanding of the risks involved.

Millions of hectares of soil are potentially suitable for irrigated agriculture across northern Australia but access to water is one of several constraints to development.

CSIRO has been engaged by the Australian Government to assess the opportunities for water and agricultural development in the Southern Gulf catchments in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The Gregory River is one river within the Southern Gulf Water Resource Assessment (SOGWRA) being completed by CSIRO.

This follows our work on the Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessments, the Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment, and ongoing work in the Roper and Victoria catchments in the Northern Territory.

We are working in the Southern Gulf catchments with Queensland and Northern Territory governments, research partners and communities. Together we will complete this assessment by June 2024.

Assessment goals

The Southern Gulf Water Resource Assessment aims to provide a comprehensive and integrated evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of water and agricultural development in the Southern Gulf catchments in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Assessment seeks to:

  • evaluate soil and water resources
  • quantify the scale of available surface and groundwater resources
  • identify and evaluate water capture and storage options
  • identify and test the commercial viability of irrigated agriculture 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 also considers opportunities for, and intersections between, different types of potential water-dependent development.

The Nicholson River in Queensland is one of the rivers within the Southern Gulf Water Resource Assessment (Image: Donna Burt via Flickr)

Assessment activities

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

The team’s key activities include:

  • Surface water modelling to assess the volume and reliability of river flow
  • Characterising, mapping and quantifying groundwater resources
  • Topographic mapping and automated terrain analysis to identify and evaluate water storage and development options
  • Mapping land and soil suitability and production risks for agriculture and aquaculture developments
  • Assessing cropping and crop–forage–livestock systems with potential to generate attractive investment returns
  • Cost-benefit analyses 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 dependent marine and freshwater species and habitats
  • Identifying Indigenous peoples’ aspirations and water values
  • Examining the potential for co-benefits to other industries arising from irrigated agriculture
  • Information and data distribution through web-based information products, reports, and community-based information sessions. For a previous example, see

The Southern Gulf Water Resource Assessment is funded through the Australian Government’s $3.5 billion National Water Grid Fund.

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.

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