Burdekin Dry Tropics

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The Burdekin Dry Tropics region is located in north eastern Queensland and covers an area of approximately 146,000 square kilometres (equivalent to about 8 per cent of the state).

The region is primarily defined by the catchment area of the Burdekin River plus the associated coastal and marine areas. The region is comprised of several sub-catchments and spans three main bioregions - the Brigalow Belt, Einasleigh Uplands and Desert Uplands. The various physical environments lead to an incredibly bio-diverse region (Tait 2004), which includes semi-arid drylands, wooded grasslands, mountainous tropical rainforests, coastal plains, wetlands, ocean and islands.


The Burdekin Dry Tropics has a population of approximately 226,000 (AGB Nielsen Media Research 2010), with the largest population base - approximately 200,000 people - centred around the city of Townsville and its surrounding peri-urban areas. Other rural centres include Charters Towers, Ayr, Home Hill, Bowen, the lower Burdekin towns, Collinsville and the Alpha and Clermont districts. Away from the major centres the region is very sparsely populated.

Traditional Owners

There are 16 Traditional Owner and Aboriginal groups in the region. Approximately five per cent of the population in the region is Indigenous. This includes a large Torres Strait Islander population, as well as a significant Melanesian South Sea Islander population which originates from indentured Kanaka labourers who were used in the development of the sugar industry in the lower Burdekin in the late 1800s.


The economy is heavily reliant upon natural resource based industries. Agriculture is by far the biggest land use in Queensland and the biggest employer in the rural areas of the Burdekin Dry Tropics region. Nine per cent of the population is involved in grazing as a farming practice, which accounts for 82 per cent of the state's land use. A further 2 per cent of the region is involved in sugarcane and horticulture farming. Other major industries include mining and tourism.


The Burdekin River Basin forms part of Australia's North East Coast Drainage Division. Within this division it is bound by the Fitzroy River Basin to its south east, by the Herbert River to the north and small catchments to the east. Its western margin adjoins two other drainage divisions, the Gulf of Carpentaria Drainage Division to the north-west and the internal Lake Eyre Drainage Division to the south-west. The Burdekin River is one of Australia's largest. It carries a massive sediment load and is on average the biggest single source of sediment and fresh water to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The region is comprised of several distinct sub-catchments. These include two larger basins, the Upper Burdekin which drains the north west of the region including the western side of the coastal ranges, and the Belyando-Suttor which drains more arid inland areas in the south and the central west via the smaller Cape River. These two major basins flow to Lake Dalrymple formed by the Burdekin Falls Dam at the top of the Burdekin Gorge. Another significant Burdekin sub-catchment, the Bowen-Broken, joins downstream from the Burdekin Gorge. From Clare downstream the drainage of localised rainfall and overbank flows is generally away from the main river via a number of prior river channels, which form floodplain and delta distributaries. These include the Barratta, Sheep Station, Plantation and Saltwater Creek systems.

River flows within the region reflect rainfall patterns, but are also affected by river regulation. Natural flows peak from December to April and are low to negligible from May to November. At this time many smaller tributaries cease flowing. In general, flows are dominated by large cyclone or monsoon driven events. These are pronounced annual fluctuations and variable from year to year. High flows may be followed by extended dry periods. The catchments that drain the wetter coastal ranges (i.e. the Upper Burdekin and the Bowen-Broken) contribute more flow relative to their area than semi arid inland basins such as Belyando-Suttor.

On the Burdekin River, flows below Lake Dalrymple are regulated by releases from the Burdekin Falls Dam. The Burdekin Falls Dam dominates flow regulation with an ability to store 1,860,000 ML of water which represents about 88 per cent of the total constructed basin storage capacity (Roth et al. 2002).

Flows on the Bowen-Broken system are regulated by the Eungella Dam with some inter basin transfers out of the system to service nearby coal mining areas (NR&M 2000). Other smaller dams, weirs and river extractions also affect river flows in the region. These include Paluma Dam, two weirs in the Upper Burdekin, the Collinsville Weir in the Bowen River, six weirs in the lower Burdekin and two on the Haughton (Roth et al. 2002).

The hydrology of the Lower Burdekin catchment is highly modified. Historically flows with the river and floodplain distributary systems were very seasonal but are now regulated. Some of the regulated flow is extracted from the river by several large pumping stations. These stations supply water to the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme (BHWSS) on the Burdekin and Haughton floodplains. This is undertaken via distributary streams and constructed channels and the North Burdekin Water boards aquifer replenishment schemes on the Burdekin Delta. Smaller sand dam and drop board structures that form part of these schemes and irrigation tail water flows, also affect the hydrology of receiving water bodies, including streams and wetlands.

Surface water flows and wetland hydrology within the region's coastal catchments, including the Haughton and Ross Rivers, are also modified by a range of dams, weirs, tidal barrages, constructed drainage networks, bund walls for ponded pasture and water extraction.

A major source on the Upper Ross River, the Ross River Reservoir provides the primary water supply for the city of Townsville. This reservoir has a pipeline connecting it to the Haughton Balancing Storage for emergency augmentation, effectively drought proofing Townsville. The pipeline is an important element in the future growth in this area.

Townsville's other main piped water supply is sourced from Paluma Dam which is part of the Burdekin River catchment.

In most areas of the region rainfall is far less than the amount of water used by plants for transpiration, therefore in general terms there is not much water that passes through the soil to recharge groundwater aquifers (Roth et al. 2002). However heavy monsoonal rainfall during the wet season will usually give some recharge. There is limited water balance and groundwater resource information available and information tends to be for areas where shallow groundwater aquifers are important for irrigation, industrial or residential water resources. These include the Don River and Burdekin River deltas and the lower Ross River and Black River catchments.


The region contains a number of assets:

  • Land
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Coastal and Marine
  • Atmosphere
  • Community
  • Cultural Resources


Each of these critical regional assets is affected by a number of threats. These threatening processes are broad and encompass a wide range of specific activities:

Regional Industries

  • Grazing
  • Agriculture
  • Dairy Farming
  • Mining
  • Fisheries
  • Aquaculture
  • Tourism
  • Forestry

Local Government

The Burdekin Dry Tropics region covers all or part of the following local government jurisdictions:

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This is a legacy website. Content is not being updated but is kept as an archive.
Updated NRM information is now held in the NQ Dry Tropics NRM Information Portal at http://nrm.nqdrytropics.com.au/.
while corporate information about NQ Dry Tropics is held on our main website at http://www.nqdrytropics.com.au
NQ Dry Tropics Website