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Burdekin: Geographic information

  • The Burdekin River is one of Australia's larger rivers.
  • Lake Dalrymple, formed by Burdekin Falls Dam, is the primary surface water resource in the region.
  • Surface water and groundwater are important water sources for irrigation, as well as mining and town supply.

Burdekin region map. Water use: 5.4% of Australia’s water use. Land use: 90% of the region used for grazing. Ecosystems: 1 Ramsar wetland with strong cultural significance. Water resources: 90% sourced from surface water 

For further geographic information about the region scroll down this page or click on the links below:


Geographic information

Mustering, Burdekin region (CSIRO © 2006)


General description

Area: 133,600 km2
Population: 33,633 (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] 2016)


Map of two water catchments. Haughton River catchment in the north near the coast and Burdekin River catchment in the remainder of the region.
Figure R1 Contextual map of the Burdekin region


  • The Burdekin region lies within the northeast coast drainage division, in the drier part of the Queensland tropics. 
  • The region is physically defined by two surface water catchments: the Burdekin River and the Haughton River.
  • About 5.4% of Australia's water use occurs in the region. Most of the water use is from surface water storages for irrigation purposes.


Land use

Map showing distribution and land use types. Major towns include Charters Towers, Ayr, Home Hill, Collinsville and Glenden. Primary land use is grazing followed by conservation and natural environments.
Figure R2 Land use in the Burdekin region


  • Urban centres within the region include Ayr, Charters Towers and Home Hill.
  • Almost 90% of the region is for pastoral grazing; about 5% of the region contains conservation areas and natural environments.
  • 1% of the region contains irrigated agriculture, primarily associated with sugarcane farming and horticulture products around Ayr.
  • Mining is also important in the region and makes up approximately 0.1% of the land area.


Significant aquatic ecosystems

 Map of Ramsar wetlands and nationally important wetlands. Nationally important wetlands are mainly located in the north and northeast of the region; some are distributed across central parts of the region. The Ramsar-listed wetland, Bowling Green Bay, is in the region's northeast along the coast.
Figure R3 Wetlands within the Burdekin region


  • The region contains several significant aquatic ecosystems, including Ramsar-listed wetlands.
  • Bowling Green Bay National Park is a Ramsar-listed wetland and contains examples of rich coastal habitats that are typical of northeast Australia's coastal wet-dry tropics.


Water resources

  • Surface water is the primary water source in the Burdekin region. The two primary surface water resources are Lake Dalrymple (formed by Burdekin Falls Dam) and Lake Eungella.
  • Groundwater in the lower Burdekin aquifers is also an important water resource in the region.
  • Both surface water and groundwater are primarily used for irrigation, as well as mining and town supply. 


Surface water


 Map of 11 major water storages. Lake Dalrymple in the Burdekin River catchment is the largest, capacity 1,860,000 ML. The other 10 storages are located across the region, total capacity approximately 160,000 ML.
Figure R4 Surface water storages within the Burdekin region

Map showing the locations of major storages within the Burdekin region. Total capacity of each storage shown in the map is included in the following table.

Water supply scheme Storage name Storage capacity (ML)
Burdekin Haughton Charters Towers Weir 5,227
Lake Dalrymple 1,860,000
Gorge Weir 9,095
Blue Valley Weir 3,820
Claire Weir 15,900
Val Bird Weir 615
Giru Weir 1,026
Bowen Broken Lake Eungella 112,476
Gattonvale offstream 5,233
Bowen River Weir 943
Other Paluma Dam 11,496


  • Lake Dalrymple, formed by Burdekin Falls Dam, operates in conjunction with the other smaller storages and weirs of the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme, which provides water to irrigators within the lower Burdekin region.
  • Lake Eungella, Bowen River Weir, and Gattonvale offstream storage make up the water stores for the Bowen Broken Water Supply Scheme. The scheme primarily provides water for urban water supply and for industrial use, including mining and the Collinsville Power Station.
  • Water stored in the Paluma Dam can be diverted outside of the region to the headwaters of Crystal Creek to supplement Townsville's urban water supply if required. Water can also be diverted from the Haughton River (as part of the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme) to Townsville.



 Map of key gauging stations. Burdekin River at Sellheim, Station ID 120002C, near Charters Towers, Cape River at Taemas, Station ID 120302B, in the central east and Suttor River at St Anns, Station ID 120303A, in the south are located upstream of Lake Dalrymple. Bowen River at Myuna, Station ID 120205A, approximately 30km west of Collinsville is located on a major tributary of Burdekin River downstream of Lake Dalrymple.
Figure R5 Key flow gauging stations along the main rivers within the Burdekin region


Graph of mean monthly flows along the Bowen, Burdekin, Cape and Suttor rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Burdekin region
Figure R6 Mean monthly flows along the Bowen, Burdekin, Cape and Suttor rivers and mean monthly rainfall for the Burdekin region

A graph of mean monthly rainfall and flow volumes for the Burdekin region. Total flow volumes are derived from streamflow data collected at the most downstream station along the river. Rainfall totals are based on area-averaged data from 1900 to 2021. Streamflow data are based on the following time periods: Burdekin River (1968–2021), Suttor River (1967–2021), Bowen River (1960–2021), and Cape River (1968–2021).

Numerical values presented in the graph are in the following table.

Month Total rainfall (mm) Bowen River (ML) Burdekin River (ML) Cape River (ML) Suttor River (ML)
July 18.8 13,072 33,368 4,126 18,234
August 14.4 8,493 16,286 970 6,613
September 13.9 4,410 18,019 190 12,158
October 26.2 6,247 12,107 333 16,793
November 49.4 20,668 57,650 9,979 63,061
December 86.1 83,877 245,855 38,502 138,453
January 138.2 181,095 1,328,863 214,399 415,464
February 131.7 239,220 1,655,510 223,042 492,160
March 86.8 174,016 906,836 97,212 229,311
April 36.8 64,941 223,933 24,885 81,966
May 26.2 36,109 104,629 17,886 106,007
June 26.8 21,647 51,563 5,024 22,681



  • Seasonal flow characteristics of rivers within the Burdekin region reflect the region's annual rainfall pattern. Most of the rainfall occurs during the wet season (November–April). Consequently, most of the streamflow within the region occurs between December and April.
  • Upstream of Lake Dalrymple (e.g., Cape and Suttor rivers), flows in the streams are very low or cease to flow during the dry season (May–October). Flows below Lake Dalrymple (Burdekin River) and Lake Eungella (Bowen River) are regulated by releases from the dams, and consequently, streamflows are generally perennial.



Map of groundwater management areas, subartesian areas and the Great Artesian Basin. The Great Western Subartesian Area covers the western boundary of the region. The Highlands Subartesian Area covers the south. The Burdekin Groundwater Management Area covers the delta region surrounding Ayr and is adjacent to the Lower Burdekin Water area. The Great Artesian Basin underlies the region along the western boundary within parts of the Great Western Subartesian Area.
Figure R7 Groundwater zones and management areas within the Burdekin region


  • There are three subartesian areas in the region: Greater Western, Highlands and Burdekin. The Burdekin groundwater management area comprises 13 subareas associated with the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme.
  • Lower Burdekin Water manage the groundwater system in the Lower Burdekin region. 
  • The Burdekin River is used to replenish the coastal aquifer via artificial pits. Groundwater replenishment in the region is used to manage seawater intrusion and improve the quality of water supplied for agriculture, domestic, and industrial purposes.
  • The Water Plan (Great Artesian Basin and Other Regional Aquifers) 2017 also applies to the western sections of the Cape–Campaspe and the Suttor–Belyando subcatchments; however, these do not feature as part of this account.
  • Groundwater is extracted from the Burdekin Groundwater Management Area and the Lower Burdekin region and is used primarily for agriculture (predominantly sugarcane production), domestic water supply, town water supply, and industrial purposes.
  • The groundwater system within the Burdekin River delta is generally considered to be unconfined. Recharge to the aquifer occurs via a range of mechanisms, including rainfall infiltration, channel seepage, percolation through artificial recharge facilities, overbank flood flows, and irrigation return flows.


Water systems

Irrigation areas

Map of 2 key irrigation areas. The Burdekin River Irrigation Area is located around the lower reaches of the Haughton River and extends up the Burdekin River to within 50km of Burdekin Falls Dam. The Lower Burdekin Irrigation Area is located around the lower reaches of the Burdekin River.
Figure R8 Irrigation areas within the Burdekin region


  • The Burdekin River Irrigation Area comprises an open channel network that is used to distribute water for irrigated agriculture. The irrigation area is located around the lower reaches of the Burdekin and Haughton rivers.
  • Irrigation water is diverted from the Burdekin River via pumping stations located in the Clare Weir area. The pumping stations divert water into three main distribution channels. On one side of the Burdekin River, water is diverted to the Haughton and Barratta main channels, which provide water to customers between the Burdekin and Haughton rivers. On the other side of the river, water is diverted into the Elliot main channel, which provides water to the Leichhardt Downs area.
  • Lower Burdekin Water manage a series of sand-dams within the lower Burdekin River to support water diversions for off-stream groundwater recharge pits.


Water supply schemes

Map of 2 water supply schemes. The Burdekin Haughton scheme covers the Burdekin River downstream of Lake Dalrymple as well as approximately 50km of the Haughton River in the northeastern part of the region. The Bowen Broken scheme covers the Broken and Bowen rivers downstream of Lake Eungella down to the confluence of the Burdekin River.
Figure R9 Water supply schemes within the Burdekin region


  • There are two water supply schemes in the Burdekin region: the Burdekin Haughton and the Bowen Broken.
  • These schemes, which are managed and operated by SunWater, primarily provide surface water to irrigators within the Burdekin River Irrigation Area.
  • Both schemes comprise a series of storages, weirs and pipelines used to divert and distribute surface water to users. Further information on the water supply schemes is available on the SunWater website.


Water management

Irrigation drainage channel, Burdekin region (Bureau of Meteorology © Rikki Garstone)


Surface water and groundwater management

Water legislation

  • The Queensland Water Act 2000 (Water Act) provides authority for the administration of basic water rights and water entitlements (interim allocations, water licences, and water allocations) in Queensland.
  • The Water Act is supported by the Water Regulation 2016 which provides details on the procedures and fees associated with water access entitlements and trading.
  • Water plans are prepared under Section 42 of the Water Act to advance the sustainable management of water. The Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007 applies to all surface water in the region.


Water management plans

  • There are three documents which guide water management in the Burdekin region: the Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007, the Burdekin Basin water management protocol, and a policy on water sharing for the Burdekin Groundwater Management Area under the Water Regulation 2016.
  • The water management protocol contains water sharing and water allocation dealing rules for the permanent trading of supplemented and unsupplemented water in the plan area. It also contains seasonal water assignment rules for unsupplemented water. Supplemented rules for water supply schemes are provided in the scheme’s operations manual.
  • The Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007 also applies to subartesian groundwater within the Giru Benefited Groundwater Area. The groundwater within this area is hydraulically connected to the surface water and is managed as surface water within the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme.
  • More information on these water management plans for the Burdekin region is provided at the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy website.


Environmental water management

  • In accordance with the Water Act, the Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007 defines the environmental flow objectives and ecological outcomes for the region.
  • Environmental flow objectives aim to retain certain temporal flow characteristics at different locations in the river system. These are met through rules which govern storage releases and allowable abstraction.
  • Further information regarding environmental water provisions for the 2019–20 year is provided in the Cultural and environmental water section in 'Supporting information'.


Cultural water management

  • The water plan supports water-related cultural values in the region, including the values of the traditional owners in the plan area. The plans provide mechanisms that support water being made available for Indigenous communities dependent on water resources in the plan area to achieve their economic and social goals.
  • Traditional water users are protected through the provision of environmental flows, and special protection for water holes of cultural significance.
  • More information on the cultural water provisions for the region are available in the Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007.


Organisations responsible for water management


Table R1 Organisations responsible for water management in the Burdekin region
 Organisation Role Water resources managed
Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy
  • water resource planning
  • managing and allocating water resources
  • policy advice to government
  • regulate water service providers
  • groundwater
  • unsupplemented water
  • manage surface water storages
  • deliver bulk water to urban retailers
  • manage the water supply schemes
all storages (see Figure R4 in 'Geographic information')
Lower Burdekin Water
  • manage the water infrastructure associated with the water supply schemes
  • undertake activities to replenish the groundwater store in the Burdekin delta aquifer
Burdekin Local Management Arrangements Interim Board
  • investigate local management arrangements for SunWater assets
Queensland Water Directorate (Qldwater)
  • Central advisory and advocacy body within Queensland's urban water industry working with members to provide safe, secure, and sustainable water services to Queensland communities
Local councils:
  • provide the distribution and retail of potable water to customers
  • collect and treat wastewater
  • Paluma Dam (Townsville City Council)
  • Charters Towers Weir (Charters Towers Regional Council)

1. If local management arrangements are implemented the Giru and Val Bird weirs may be transferred to the local board.


  • Other councils that have part of their administrative area within the Burdekin region include: Etheridge Shire Council, Tablelands Regional Council, Flinders Shire Council, and Hinchinbrook Shire Council.


Water rights

Clare Weir, Burdekin region (Bureau of Meteorology © Shobhit Chandra)


Operating rules and constraints

  • Abstraction of water is controlled by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy through allocation planning and water licensing arrangements. Water can only be abstracted and/or interfered with from designated areas within the region when a water authorisation (water allocation, license or permit) is issued.
  • Resource operations licences or distribution operations licences are required for the operation of water supply scheme infrastructure and distribution of water to water allocation holders. Holders must comply with these licences for day-to-day operational, water sharing and seasonal water assignment rules.
  • The Burdekin has two resource operations licences operated by SunWater: the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme resource operations licence and the Bowen Broken Water Supply Scheme resource operations licence.
  • The Burdekin Groundwater Management Area water-sharing rules are the rules prescribed under the Water Regulation 2016 for a water licence not managed under the protocol. The water-sharing rules describe the arrangements under which access to groundwater within the area is managed.
  • The Lower Burdekin Water Board holds a distribution operations licence to distribute supplemented water in the plan area. The Lower Burdekin distribution operations licence is guided by the Lower Burdekin distribution operations licence manual.


Water entitlements and other statutory water rights

  • Surface water managed under a water plan has two distinct categories: regulated (or 'supplemented') access to water within a water supply scheme managed via dams and distribution systems; and unregulated (or 'unsupplemented') access to water in a natural river or aquifer system.
  • Supplemented and unsupplemented water entitlements are prioritised, managed, and administered separately.


Water allocations

  • Annual water allocations, known as supplemented allocations, are provided for all water users within water supply schemes. Allocation percentages are announced by resource operations licence/distribution operations licence holders on the first day of the water year (generally 1 July–30 June unless otherwise specified) for supplemented entitlement holders. Additional announcements can be made during the year, but the allocation percentage cannot exceed 100% of the allocation volume, or be reduced below the initial allocation percentage.
  • Announced allocation percentages vary between water supply schemes and priority groups. Urban licence holders of supplemented entitlements generally have 'high priority' allocations, typically set at 100% of their allocated volume. Urban holders of supplemented entitlements have the same announced limit applied to their entitlement as other supplemented entitlement holders of the same priority entitlements.
  • Unsupplemented water (taken from the natural flow of a river or from groundwater) is managed separately; for example, unsupplemented water may be abstracted during announced periods based on flow thresholds that ensure environmental streamflows are maintained.


Trades and water rights transfers

  • There are three active water markets in Queensland: the water allocation market, which concerns the trading of regulated water access entitlements; the seasonal water assignment market, which deals with the seasonal (temporary) assignment of water allocations and other entitlements; and the relocatable water licence market, which concerns the relocation of water licences from one parcel of land to another.
  • Water allocations in Queensland are separate from land rights, and are partly or wholly tradeable and registered on the Department of Natural Resources and Mines water allocation register. Relocatable licences can be partly or wholly traded after assessment and are specific to a water resource plan or zone within a water resource plan area.
  • In the Burdekin region, trading of access entitlements or allocations do not occur between water supply schemes but can occur between zones within them. The rules for water allocation trading are detailed in the Water Regulation 2016, Water plan (Burdekin Basin) 2007, Burdekin Basin water management protocol, and the water–sharing policy for the Burdekin Groundwater Management Area.
  • Information on water rights trading in the Burdekin Basin region during the 2019–20 year can be found in the Water market activity section in 'Supporting information'.