1 The Lake Eyre Basin one of the world’s great desert river systems 13 Development of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin could easily have followed a similar path, when the Currareva development proposal on Cooper Creek was put forward in 1995 (see Chapter 17). This was essentially an irrigation development similar in size and volume to those already established in the more easterly Murray–Darling Basin rivers, with the potential to harvest and store water from small, medium and large floods in off-river storages. There is no more notorious example of the ecological and social impacts of such development than that on the Condamine–Balonne River system, the last major river to be developed in the Murray–Darling Basin (Kingsford 2000b), where small-scale irrigation developments were ratcheted up under increasing pressure from the irrigation industry, often abetted by different Queensland Government agencies (see Chapter 21). This has had considerable impacts on socio-economic values downstream (see Chapter 15). Increasingly, there is concern that exploration and development of mining projects, particularly their use of significant volumes of water and their exploration and development footprint on floodplains, may affect the sustainability of the Lake Eyre Basin rivers. Depending on the size of such developments, flow patterns of the rivers may be severely altered, affecting both environmental values and human communities downstream. Pollution of waterways is a serious threat, evidenced by the disastrous spillage of pollutants from the Lady Annie mine into the Georgina River catchment in 2009 (see Chapter 19). Climate change has the potential to exacerbate the problem of water resource development, although there is considerable uncertainty in climate predictions for the inland desert regions. Fig. 1.7. Chinese ‘gardeners’ were among the first developers of the rivers of the Lake Eyre Basin, creating weirs, such as this one on the Diamantina waterholes, which controlled water that could then be diverted to irrigate vegetables (photo, R. T. Kingsford).
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