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  • Page extent: 462 pages
  • Size: 276 x 219 mm
  • Weight: 1.35 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 363.6/1
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: TC409 .G49 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Water transfer--Case studies
    • Water-supply--Management--Case studies
    • Water consumption--Forecasting--Case studies

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521869690)

Inter-Basin Water Transfer
Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-86969-0 - Inter-Basin Water Transfer: Case Studies from Australia, United States, Canada, China and India - by Fereidoun Ghassemi and Ian White
Front Matter

Inter-Basin Water Transfer
Case Studies from Australia, United States, Canada, China and India

Since the Second World War increasing demands for irrigation, domestic and industrial water have generated a massive growth world-wide in the number of large water infrastructure projects. Many of these projects involved the transfer of water from basins considered to have surplus water to those where the demand for water has exceeded or is expected to exceed supplies. While these inter-basin water transfers have substantially contributed to the overall development of numerous countries, they also have caused environmental, social, cultural and economic problems.

Using the experience of inter-basin water transfer projects in Australia, United States, Canada, China and India this book examines case studies within the diverse geographical, climatic, economic, and policy regimes operating in these countries. The first part of the book is an overview of world challenges with respect to water resources and discusses the key issues in inter-basin water transfers. The second part examines the water resources of Australia, the driest inhabited continent. It describes the benefits and impacts of a number of inter-basin transfer projects developed or proposed in Australia. The third part explores inter-basin water transfer projects in the United States, Canada, China and India, examining their benefits and impacts within these nations’ contrasting economies and governance systems. The fourth part consists of numerous appendices. The book concludes by highlighting the successes and failures of the case examined, and provides pointers for the future of inter-basin water transfer in meeting urgent and growing water demands. This comprehensive and well-illustrated text will be of great interest to professionals and researchers in the fields of hydrology, water resources, and to those engaged in environmental science, policy and regulation.

FEREIDOUN GHASSEMI is Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, The Australian National University. He is a Fellow of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand and was recipient of the G. Burton Medal from the Hydrological Society of Canberra in 1995. Dr Ghassemi has more than 35 years of experience in various aspects of water resource research in Australia, France, Iran and Vietnam.

IAN WHITE is Professor of Water Resources at the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, The Australian National University. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. Professor White was awarded a Centenary Medal for service to Australian society in environmental science and technology in 2003 and has twice (in 1994 and 1997) received the G. Burton Publication Medal from the Hydrological Society of Canberra. He has worked in water and land resources in Australia, the United States, Pacific small island nations, Vietnam, China and France.


The International Hydrological Programme (IHP) was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1975 as the successor to the International Hydrological Decade. The long-term goal of the IHP is to advance our understanding of processes occurring in the water cycle and to integrate this knowledge into water resources management. The IHP is the only UN science and educational programme in the field of water resources, and one of its outputs has been a steady stream of technical and information documents aimed at water specialists and decision-makers.

The International Hydrology Series has been developed by the IHP in collaboration with Cambridge University Press as a major collection of research monographs, synthesis volumes and graduate texts on the subject of water. Authoritative and international in scope, the various books within the series all contribute to the aims of the IHP in improving scientific and technical knowledge of fresh-water processes, in providing research know-how and in stimulating the responsible management of water resources.


Secretary to the Advisory Board

Dr Michael Bonell Division of Water Science, UNESCO, I rue Miollis, Paris 75732, France
Members of the Advisory Board
Professor B. P. F. Braga Jr Centro Technológica de Hindáulica, São Paulo, Brazil
Professor G. Dagan Faculty of Engineering. Tel Aviv University, Israel
Dr J. Khouri Water Resources Division, Arab Centre for Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands, Damascus, Syria
Dr G. Leavesley US Geological Survey, Water Resources Division, Denver Federal Center, Colorado, USA
Dr E. Morris Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, UK
Professor L. Oyebande Department of Geography and Planning, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Professor S. Sorooshian Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
Professor K. Takeuchi Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Yamanashi University, Japan
Professor D. E. Walling Department of Geography, University of Exeter, UK
Professor I. White Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia


M. Bonnell, M. M. Hufschmidt and J. S. Gladwell Hydrology and Water Management in the Humid Tropics: Hydrological Research Issues and Strategies for Water Management
Z. W. Kundzewicz New Uncertainty Concepts in Hydrology
R. A. Feddes Space and Time Scale Variability and Interdependencies in the Various Hydrological Processes
J. Gibbert, J. Mathieu and F. Fournier Groundwater and Surface Water Ecotones: Biological and Hydrological Interactions and Management Options
G. Dagan and S. Neuman Subsurface Flow and Transport: A Stochastic Approach
J. C. van Dam Impacts of Climate Change and Climate Variability on Hydrological Regimes
J. J. Bogardi and Z. W. Kundzewicz Risk, Reliability, Uncertainty and Robustness of Water Resources Systems
G. Kaser and H. Osmaston Tropical Glaciers
I. A. Shiklomanov and John C. Rodda World Water Resources at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century
A. S. Issar Climate Changes during the Holocene and their Impact on Hydrological Systems
M. Bonnell and L. A. Bruijnzeel Forests, Water and People in the Humid Tropics: Past, Present and Future Hydrological Research for Integrated Land and Water Management
F. Ghassemi and I. White Inter-Basin Water Transfer: Case Studies from Australia, United States, Canada, China and India


Case Studies from Australia, United States, Canada, China and India


Fereidoun Ghassemi and Ian White

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Cambridge University Press 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data

Ghassemi, F. (Fereidoun), 1940-
 Inter-basin water transfer : case studies from Australia, United States, Canada, China, and India / by Fereidoun Ghassemi and Ian White.
   p. cm. – (International hydrology series)
 Includes bibliographical references and index.
 ISBN-13: 978-0-521-86969-0 (hardback)
 ISBN-10: 0-521-86969-2 (hardback)
1. Water transfer–Case studies. 2. Water-supply–Management–Case studies. 3. Water consumption–Forecasting–Case studies. I. White, Ian, 1943- II. Title. III. Series.

 TC409.G49 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0-521-86969-0 hardback
ISBN-10: 0-521-86969-2 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


This book is dedicated to the memory of Benedict (Ben) Chifley, the Post-War visionary Labor Prime Minister of Australia (July 1945 to December 1949) and founder of the Australian National University 60 years ago on the 1st August 1946 who understood the importance of water in Australia and had the courage and tenacity to act on that understanding.


Throughout this book:

The Australian dollar* is represented by $
The US dollar is represented by US$, and
The Canadian dollar is represented by CAN$

* In February 1966 the Australian currency system was converted from the British system of pounds to Australian dollars, which were worth half a pound.


The authors, publisher and the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, the Australian National University, would like to advise that the information contained in this publication is based on scientific publications and research results. As such, this information may be incomplete or not suitable to be used in any specific situation. No reliance or actions should be made on that information without seeking prior expert advice.

The authors, publisher and the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, the Australian National University exclude all liability to any individual person, organisation, government department, research institution, and others for any consequences including but not limited to all losses, damages, costs, expenses and any other compensation, arising directly or indirectly from using this publication (in part or as a whole) and any information or material contained in it.


Forewordpage xv
Overview and Scopexix
List of Abbreviationsxxv
Part I The Challenges1
 1 World population and pressures on land, water and food resources3
1.2Dryland areas4
1.3Extent of human-induced land degradation4
1.4Water resources8
1.5Agricultural land use13
1.6Food and fibre production15
1.7Feeding the world population16
1.8World water and food to 202517
1.9Challenge Program on water and food18
 2 Issues in inter-basin water transfer22
2.2Knowledge requirements and inter-basin water transfer23
2.3Planning and public participation27
2.4Assessment of the impacts28
2.5Environmental flow requirements of rivers31
2.6Social and cultural issues35
2.7Economic appraisal37
2.8Water rights38
2.9Conflicts and their resolution40
2.10Integrated assessment and modelling43
Part II Inter-basin Water Transfer in Australia49
 3 Land and water resources of Australia51
3.4Climate change56
3.7Soil resources61
3.8Agricultural land use64
3.9Water resources65
3.10Environmental degradation70
3.11Management reforms and programmes74
3.12Estimates of future water requirements79
3.13National water initiative84
3.14Potential role of inter-basin water transfer85
 4 The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme91
4.3Decline in precipitation91
4.4Historical background92
4.5Snowy Mountains Act95
4.6Cost of the scheme96
4.7Technical features of the scheme96
4.8Water releases97
4.9Electricity production97
4.11Environmental impacts of the scheme101
4.12Corporatisation of the scheme101
4.13The Snowy water inquiry102
4.14The environmental flow agreement104
4.15Precipitation enhancement project104
 5 Inter-basin water transfer from coastal basins of New South Wales107
5.2Environmental problems of the North Coast river basins107
5.3Proposed diversion schemes110
5.4The scoping study122
5.5Clearance scheme and water supply of Adelaide122
 6 The Bradfield and Reid schemes in Queensland125
Section A: The Bradfield scheme125
6.2Water availability125
6.3Outline of the Bradfield scheme125
6.4Costs and benefits of the scheme126
6.5The 1947 review of the scheme126
6.6The expanded Bradfield scheme129
6.7The 1982 review of the scheme131
6.8Bradfield scheme and water supply of Adelaide134
Section B: The Reid scheme135
6.10Description of the scheme135
6.11Cost of the scheme137
6.12Expected benefits of the scheme137
 7 Three schemes for flooding Lake Eyre139
7.2Characteristics of the Lake Eyre Basin139
7.3Port Augusta–Lake Eyre canal scheme144
7.4The Great Boomerang Scheme147
7.5Flooding Lake Eyre with waters of the Great Artesian Basin149
 8 The Goldfields pipeline scheme of Western Australia151
8.2Water shortage151
8.3Pipeline proposals152
 9 Supplying Perth, Western Australia with water: the Kimberley pipeline scheme165
9.2Water conservation strategy165
9.3Long-term water supply options for Perth165
9.4Perth's water supply options167
9.5Inter-basin water transfer from Kimberley169
9.6Bulk water transport by ship from Kimberley to Perth177
9.7Seawater desalination for Perth's water supply177
10 Other schemes in Australia180
Section A: River Murray pipelines in South Australia180
10.3Morgan–Whyalla pipelines181
10.4Mannum–Adelaide pipeline183
10.5Swan Reach–Paskeville pipeline183
10.6Tailem Bend–Keith pipeline183
10.7Murray Bridge–Onkaparinga pipeline183
Section B: Mareeba–Dimbulah irrigation scheme, Queensland184
10.9History of the scheme184
10.10Agricultural development186
10.11Water allocation and water use186
10.12Power generation and town water supply186
10.13Water quality issues of the Tinaroo Falls Lake187
10.14Barron water resources plan187
10.15Possibilities for future expansion188
10.16Impacts of water resources development188
Section C: Domestic and industrial water supply in North Queensland188
10.17Water supply from Eungella Dam188
10.18Pipelines for water supply of Townsville and Thuringowa189
10.19Pipeline to Bowen area189
Section D: Water supply to the Broken Hill mines and township, New South Wales189
10.21Water supply191
Part III Inter-basin Water Transfer in Other Selected Countries199
11 Inter-basin water transfer in the United States of America201
Section A: Overview of geography, population, land and water201
11.3Precipitation and climate202
11.4Land use203
11.5Water resources204
11.8Climate change impacts209
11.9Water transfer projects in the United States209
11.10Ambitious plans for water transfer211
11.11Federal water plan for the west (water 2025)212
Section B: Inter-basin water transfer in California215
11.12Geography and population215
11.13Water supply and demand215
11.14Water transfer projects217
11.15Major management programs and strategies229
Section C: Inter-basin water transfer from the Colorado River240
11.16Colorado River Basin240
11.17Water transfer projects243
12 Inter-basin water transfer in Canada261
Section A: Overview of geography, population, land and water261
12.4Climate and precipitation262
12.5Land cover and use263
12.6Water resources264
12.9Hydro-power generation270
12.10Climate change impacts270
12.11Management of water resources272
Section B: Inter-basin water transfer projects275
12.13Examples of water transfer projects276
12.14Great Lakes Basin diversions281
12.15Impacts of the diversion projects281
12.16Learning from Canadian experience284
12.17Large-scale water export proposals284
12.18Water export policy290
13 Inter-basin water transfer in China295
Section A: Overview of geography, population, land and water295
13.4Climate and precipitation297
13.5Land cover and use297
13.7Water resources299
13.10Climate change impacts305
13.11Sustainable water resources development305
13.12Water conservation306
Section B: Inter-basin water transfer projects307
13.14South to North Water Transfer Project307
13.15Action plan for the North China Plain314
14 India: The National River-Linking Project319
Section A: Overview of geography, population, land and water319
14.4Climate and precipitation320
14.6Water resources323
14.9Climate change impacts326
14.10Impacts of dam building327
14.11National water policy329
14.12Inter-state water disputes330
Section B: The National River-Linking Project330
14.14Existing projects330
14.15River-linking proposals of the 1970s331
14.16The National River-Linking Project331
15 Inter-basin water transfer, successes, failures and the future345
15.2Benefits of inter-basin water transfer projects346
15.3Impacts of inter-basin water transfer projects350
15.4Mega-scale water transfer proposals353
15.5Necessary knowledge for inter-basin water transfer353
15.6Inter-basin water transfer, water conservation and new sources of supply354
15.7Inter-basin water transfer and cross jurisdictional agreements355
15.8Recommendations of the World Commission on Dams356
15.9Concluding comments356
Part IV Appendices359
Appendix A Some of the Australian pioneers of inter-basin water transfer361
A.1Bradfield, John Job Crew (1867–1943)361
A.2Chifley, Joseph Benedict “Ben” (1885–1951)362
A.3Forrest, Sir John (1847–1918)364
A.4Hudson, Sir William (1896–1978)366
A.5Idriess, Ion Llewellyn (1889–1979)367
A.6Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (1894–1978)368
A.7O’Connor, Charles Yelverton (1843–1902)369
Appendix B Construction timetable of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme371
Appendix C Details of diversion schemes from the Clarence River Basin374
C.2Details of diversion schemes from the Macleay River Basin376
Appendix D Chronological table of the most important events in the Goldfields Pipeline Scheme, Western Australia377
Appendix E Flooding of the Sahara depressions379
E.2Roudaire’s expeditions379
E.3Commission of inquiry380
E.4Continuation of the inland sea affair (1882–1936)381
E.5Developments from 1957 to 1968381
E.6The joint Algeria and Tunisia project (1983–85)382
Appendix F The Ord River Irrigation Scheme384
F.2Hydrology and water quality of the Ord River386
F.3Economic evaluation of the scheme386
F.4Recent gross values of agricultural production388
F.5Hydro-power generation388
F.6Stage 2 of the scheme388
Appendix G The West Kimberley Irrigation Scheme393
G.2Groundwater allocation and stakeholders concerns393
G.3Cultural values of groundwater395
G.4Cotton research395
G.5Benefits of the WAI proposal395
G.6Progress of the feasibility study396
G.7Failure of the proposal396
Appendix H Some other water transfer schemes in Australia397
H.2Shoalhaven Diversion Scheme397
H.3Thomson Diversion Scheme403
H.4Hydro-power generation in Tasmania405
Appendix I Selected technical features of the Central Valley Project in California413
Appendix J Selected technical features of the State Water Project in California415
Appendix K Selected characteristics of some of the completed or proposed inter-basin water transfer projects in Australia, United States, Canada, China and India, in chronological order417


A fundamental problem that is facing the water profession at present is its inability to look to the future. An implicit assumption has been that future water availability, use and demand patterns will basically be similar to what have mostly been witnessed in the past, with perhaps only incremental changes. The water profession has been repeating ad nauseaum for the last four decades that “business as usual” is not an option but continues to behave as if there is no other option. The only difference that can be noted during the past decade is that the rhetoric of “business as usual” is not an option has intensified immensely, but it has not resulted in any perceptible change in terms of actions.

Based on the research carried out at the Third World Centre for Water Management, it can be said with considerable confidence that the world of water management will change more during the next 20 years, compared to the past 2000 years. The structures of water availability, use patterns and overall demands will change radically because of many factors, some known but the others mostly unknown. The factors that are mostly being ignored at present are likely to have increasingly more impacts on water-related issues during the coming decades. Among these factors are radically changing population dynamics (declining population in many countries, population stabilisation in other countries, increasing number of elderly people all over the world, and especially in China during the post-2025 period, etc.), concurrent urbanisation and ruralisation, globalisation and free trade in agricultural and industrial products, information and communication revolution, advances in technology (especially in areas like biotechnology and desalination), scramble for energy security by the major nations, and uncertainties associated with climate change. All of these will have major implications for water planning and management in the coming decades. Yet, none of these issues are being seriously considered at present.

These uncertainties are especially important for considering future major inter-basin water transfer (IBWT) projects. These projects often have gestation periods of 15 years or more. Thus, unlike in the past, when it was comparatively easy to predict future developments, and thus water requirements, the forecasting process will become exceedingly more complex in the coming years. If the future water demands cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty, it will not be an easy task to analyse the needs, desirability and cost-effectiveness of the proposed new IBWT projects.

Let us take only one example: the current on-going discussions under the Doha round of negotiations under the World Trade Organisation, and how this activity that is seemingly unrelated to water could have major implications in the future on the water sector. Irrespective of whatever may be the final results of the Doha round, it is now certain that agricultural subsidies and tariffs will be reduced quite significantly within the next 10 to 20 years. The only question is when and by how much. By 2020, only 14 years from now, we can say with certainty that we shall see considerable progress in terms of reduction in agricultural subsidies, even though we cannot say definitively when exactly this will occur, or by how much. Because of these important changes, the structure of agricultural production in numerous countries will change very substantially, along with their agricultural water requirements, which globally is the largest user of water at present.

When our Centre was requested to undertake an independent review of the Spanish Plan to transfer water from the Ebro River to the southern coastal areas of Spain, our conclusions were that if we consider the conditions that are likely to prevail during the post-2020 period, when the Plan may become operational, it may be difficult to justify even the existing agricultural water use patterns, let alone expect higher water uses. This is because the structure of water demand is likely to change radically in Western Europe because of new global agricultural trade agreements, changing socio-political considerations, and economic and technological developments. In addition, the officially estimated cost of delivering per cubic metre of the Ebro water to the Levante basins is nearly 50 percent higher than the current cost of desalination of sea water. Accordingly, even though the Spanish Parliament had earlier approved the Ebro water transfer, it later decided to cancel this plan.

The Ebro example, however, should not be construed to mean that in the future no inter-basin water transfer schemes will be necessary. Rather, each case must be carefully considered and analysed in terms of future water requirements and societal expectations when the projects are expected to be completed, and not on the basis of the prevailing conditions when the planning starts. The two sets of conditions are likely to be very different, a fact that has thus far been mostly ignored by the water professionals. If after objective analyses, it is considered that an IBWT project is necessary and can be justified on economic, social and environmental terms, its construction should proceed.

A major problem facing the developing world at present is the knee-jerk reactions of certain activist groups, primarily from the Western countries, that large scale water developments are no longer necessary, and that the water requirements of the future can be taken care of by small-scale projects like rainwater harvesting. It is difficult to have any sympathy with such a dogmatic view. First, large dams or small projects are not an either/or proposition. At a certain location and at a certain time, a large project may prove to be the best solution. Equally, at another place, a small project may be more appropriate. Many times, the two alternatives may even have to co-exist. An objective analysis of past water development projects from different parts of the world indicates that small can be beautiful, but it can also be ugly. Similarly, big can be magnificent, but it can also be a disaster. Each case must be judged by its site-specific conditions and its own merits. Dogmatic views are invariably wrong and socially unproductive on a long-term basis. For a heterogeneous and rapidly changing world, there is no other alternative but to consider plurality of paradigms. One size simply does not fit all.

In addition, a vast majority of water professionals and international institutions do not understand the water problems of developing countries, all of which are in tropic and semi-tropical climates with pronounced seasonality in precipitation patterns. This is in sharp contrast to developed countries, all of which (except Australia) are in temperate climates with a much more even distribution of precipitation within the year, and also between the years.

Let us take the case of India, much of which receives its annual rainfall in less than 100 hours (not necessarily consecutive). The main water problem of India thus is how to store this immense amount of rainfall over such a short period so that water is available for various uses throughout the year. For the large Indian cities, there is simply no other alternative but to build large dams so that water is available on a reliable basis throughout the year. In other parts of India, depending upon the local conditions, rainwater harvesting may prove to be the best solution. Thus, the main questions with large dams, which are invariably components of IBWT projects, is not whether they should be built, since there may not be any alternative to them under certain conditions, but to ensure that they are built and managed in a way that is economically efficient, socially desirable and environmentally acceptable.

Another important problem in the water resources area is the lack of reliable and basic information. For example, current estimates of global water withdrawal figures can at best be of very limited use. First, we do not even know with any degree of reliability how much water a major country like India or China withdraws, let alone many other smaller countries. Thus, one has no idea about the accuracy of the current global water abstraction and use estimates. Almost certainly, they are all wide of the mark.

Second, the quantity of water abstracted, even if this estimate was known reliably, is increasingly becoming less and less meaningful for planning and management purposes. Water is not like oil which can be used only once. Some have estimated that each drop of the Colorado River water is used several times. If the management practices can be improved, the extent of water reuse will increase very substantially. As water is reused more and more, both formally and informally, the information on how much water is being withdrawn becomes increasingly less and less relevant. Even for highly developed countries of Western Europe, or the United States, we have only very limited information as to the quantity of water that is being reused. For developing countries, we simply do not have any idea. All we can say is that the amount that is being reused is very high, and the extent of reuse is increasing everywhere.

In this context, a few comments on the World Commission on Dams are appropriate. Regrettably, the report of the Commission leaves much to be desired. Not surprisingly, one of its two god-fathers, the World Bank, did not endorse the report, and the major dam-building countries like China, India and Turkey, have very specifically rejected this report.

Some of its views are fundamentally erroneous. For example, the Commission has claimed that 40–80 million people have been displaced by large dams. No knowledgeable and objective expert will accept even the lower estimate of 40 million, which is wide of the mark. The total estimate is likely to be very significantly less. To claim that it could be as high as 80 million is patently ridiculous. The main problem with the so-called knowledge-base developed by the Commission is that it is full of chaff, but it may contain some wheat. However, absence of serious peer reviews of its case studies has meant that it is impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The authors of this book, Fereidoun Ghassemi and Ian White, have done a remarkable job in assembling and analysing an immense amount of data on inter-basin water transfer projects from Australia, United States, Canada, China and India. Many of these data are not easily available. Some of the information like those on the Australian pioneers of IBWT is mostly unknown at present. Thus, the book should be of special significance to all the water professionals interested in IBWT. I am thus confident that the water profession will consider this book to be an important contribution to the literature.

Atizapan, Mexico
April 2006

Asit K. Biswas
President Third World
Centre for Water Management
and the 2006 Stockholm Water
Prize Laureate

Overview and Scope

Large water infrastructure projects were completed throughout the world during the twentieth century to meet the increasing demands of burgeoning populations for irrigation and domestic water supplies. These projects saw the construction of dams, reservoirs, pipelines, pumping stations, hydro-power plants and irrigation systems within river basins. In several countries, major and in some cases almost heroic, projects were undertaken to transfer water from basins considered to have surplus water to basins where water demand exceeded or was expected to exceed the available supply. This book compares the contexts and experiences in inter-basin water transfer in countries with widely different water needs, population pressures, economies and forms of government.

Most large water infrastructure and inter-basin water transfer projects in the past were the domain of engineers and government bureaucrats. Many were undertaken with minimal assessment of environmental or social impacts and with rudimentary and in some cases doubtful cost–benefit analyses. Community participation in such schemes was either nonexistent or token. While many have benefited from such schemes, there has often been marked inequity in the distribution of benefits. There have been significant social, economic and environmental impacts, with poor and indigenous communities frequently bearing a disproportionate share of the impacts. Globally, millions of people have been displaced by large water projects. The predicted performance of water projects and projected cost recovery and profitability has often proved illusory. Rivers and lakes have dried to a trickle, aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity have declined, and sediment delivery to floodplains has been reduced while expensive dams have silted up. As a result of these issues, the World Bank has been impelled to change its policy and currently demands detailed impact assessment of water resources development projects before approving their funding. Furthermore, the World Commission on Dams, following its extensive review of major water infrastructure projects, has recommended seven strategic priorities and related policy principles for making decisions on dam construction and inter-basin water transfer.

The proposal early in the twentieth century in the United States to build the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct to meet San Francisco's increasing demands for freshwater was possibly the first inter-basin transfer scheme to face significant opposition because of perceived adverse environmental impacts. In 1913, that opposition failed to stop construction and the dispute over its impacts continues to the present. Communities, particularly in the developed world, have become increasingly vocal over proposed water projects, questioning needs, benefits, costs and impacts, demanding better information, protection of the environment and social and cultural values, and a voice in the decision process.

Proposals for the inter-basin transfer of water continue to evoke heated disputes because of disagreements over benefits, costs and impacts. For example, in the 2005 Western Australian State election, the US$9 billion inter-basin water transfer proposal from the Kimberley region in the north of the State to Perth in the south was a key and deciding election issue which resulted in the defeat of the opposition who supported the project. In these often lengthy disputes, limited use has been made of analyses of previous inter-basin transfer projects. The aim of this book is to present as dispassionate an account as possible of the history and technology of inter-basin water transfer under contrasting conditions in Australia, the western United Sates, Canada, China and India. These countries vary dramatically in climate, from the driest inhabited continent to one with the highest per capita annual quantity of freshwater; in political systems, from centrally planned to free market; and in different stages of economic development. Our goal in this wide-ranging analysis is to draw general lessons from the experiences of these widely diverse countries in inter-basin water transfer so that past mistakes will not be repeated.

In developed countries with relatively low rates of population increase, such as Australia, the United Sates and Canada, priorities have now moved from increasing water harvesting to meet untrammelled water demand to water conservation, especially through improvements in water use efficiency in all sectors of the economy and particularly in irrigation. Emphasis is being placed on water pricing and water trading and on the reuse of treated wastewater, conjunctive use of surface and groundwater, precipitation enhancement, rainwater harvesting, and to a lesser extent desalination. In developing countries, with rapidly expanding economies, increasing populations and urgent water demands, such as China and India, the imperative is to meet regional water and power needs. In such countries, and in areas that are expected to experience decreases in water availability due to global warming, inter-basin transfer of water remains attractive.

This book is divided into four parts. Part I overviews information about world water resources and summarises the key issues that have arisen in inter-basin water transfer and in large water infrastructure projects throughout the world. It provides a framework for examining inter-basin transfer proposals. Part II focuses on land and water scarcity issues, policy changes and the Australian experience in inter-basin transfer. Australia is undergoing the most profound changes in water policy and strategy since federation in 1901. These changes are based on the need for pricing mechanisms to reflect the true costs in supplying water, and the need to better balance water allocation between consumers and the environment. Part III examines selected inter-basin transfers in the United States, Canada, China and India. Finally, Part IV consists of numerous appendices.

In Part I, Chapter 1 provides an overview of world challenges, which includes topics such as: population, land degradation, water resources and the extent of their developments, dams and transfer of water from one basin to another, climate change and its impacts on water resources, agriculture, and food production. Here, the limitations of the world's land and water resources, faced with an increasing population and prospects of global warming, are explored. Chapter 2 describes major issues relevant to the inter-basin water transfer including topography, geology, hydrology, environmental considerations, land degradation, social and cultural issues, economic appraisal, and conflicts and their resolution. It concludes that inter-basin water transfer projects require detailed multidisciplinary investigations and an integrated approach in assessment of projects.

In Part II, Chapter 3 provides an introduction to Australia's geography, population, climate, agriculture, water resources, and estimates of its future water requirements. This is a prelude to the following chapters on inter-basin water transfer in Australia. Chapter 4 describes the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, its history, technical features, finance, and other related issues. Chapter 5 describes numerous proposals developed for the inland transfer of water from coastal river basins of New South Wales, such as the Clarence, Macleay, Manning and Tuross and outlines the reasons for their rejection. Chapter 6 details the Bradfield and the Reid schemes for inland diversion of coastal rivers of Queensland. Chapter 7 describes three schemes for flooding of Lake Eyre, located at the centre of the continent, by diversion of surface water from coastal rivers of Queensland, by seawater from South Australia and by groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin. The idea was inspired by a similar proposal for flooding of the Sahara depressions in north Africa with Mediterranean Sea water under the erroneous assumption that this would change local rainfall and climate. Chapter 8 examines the history and construction of the Goldfields Pipeline in Western Australia, the first major water transfer project in Australia, completed in 1903. Chapter 9 examines the politically contentious proposals for water transfer from the Kimberley region in the north of Western Australia to Perth and Adelaide. Chapter 10 covers a number of large to relatively small projects for domestic, irrigation and mining water supply in South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

In Part III, Chapter 11 explores water transfer projects in the United States. It reviews water transfer projects in California, and from the Colorado River Basin to its neighbouring states. This chapter outlines policies developed by the Federal and State Governments for the better management of their currently developed resources in order to satisfy water requirements in the ensuing two or three decades without building new dams and initiating inter-basin water transfer projects. Chapter 12 covers inter-basin water transfer projects in Canada, developed mainly for hydro-power generation rather than for irrigation or domestic water supply. Chapter 13 examines the South to North Water Transfer Project in China planned to overcome serious water shortage and environmental degradation in the North China Plain. It also describes China's continuing dam construction and inter-basin water transfer projects, and its efforts to implement water conservation measures. In Chapter 14, India's response to its growing water demands, rapidly developing economy, and variable distribution of water are discussed. Its highly controversial planned National Rivers-Linking Project is considered. Finally, Chapter 15 highlights successes, failures and provides pointers for the future of inter-basin water transfer projects.

International meetings over the past two decades have increasingly drawn attention to the shortfalls in good quality water for human needs, particularly in drier areas with high population growth rates, and to the environmental and ecological impacts of human activities and interventions in the hydrologic cycle on water systems. The United Nations General Assembly Millennium Declaration in 2000 resolved, “to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of the world's population who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water” and “to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources”. The Implementation Plan of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 had as one of its aims to “improve the efficient use of water resources and promote their allocation among competing uses in a way that gives priority to the satisfaction of basic human needs and balances the requirement of preserving or restoring ecosystems and their functions, in particular fragile environments, with human domestic, industrial and agricultural needs, including safeguarding drinking water quality”. These goals represent enormous tasks.

In the developed world, with more stable populations, emphasis is being placed on water conservation and reuse and on restoring or mitigating aquatic ecosystems impacted by water developments. In the developing world, rapidly increasing water demand requires new water infrastructure and perhaps inter-basin transfer projects to assist in alleviating poverty, and satisfying basic water, food and fibre demands. In numerous cases alternative options to inter-basin water transfer may exist. They need to be explored and implemented where possible. It is our hope that the material and analyses presented in this book will be useful to decision-makers, researchers, university students and general public in both developed and developing worlds in stimulating debate and informing decisions on new inter-basin water transfer proposals and in achieving negotiated outcomes with active participation of all stakeholders.

Fereidoun Ghassemi and Ian White


The authors would like to thank sincerely all those people who reviewed various chapters/sections of the book and made constructive comments or assisted us by providing information. These are:

A. Australia

Arthington, Angela (Prof.): Centre for Riverine Landscapes, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Griffith University, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland.
Ballard, Jeff (Mr): Infrastructure Engineer, NQ Water, Townsville, Queensland.
Barnes, Marilla (Ms): Corporate Communications, SA Water Corporation, Adelaide, South Australia.
Braaten, Robert (Mr): Water Management Division, DIPNR,1 Sydney, New South Wales.
Chartres, Colin (Dr): Deputy Chief, CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.
Close, Andrew (Mr): Manager, Water Resources Group, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
Commander, Philip (Mr): Department of Environment, Perth, Western Australia.
Crabb, Peter (Dr): Visiting Fellow, CRES,2 ANU.3
Croke, Barry (Dr): Joint CRES and iCAM4 Research Fellow at ANU.
Dovers, Stephen (Prof.): CRES, ANU.
Dunlop, Michael (Dr): Resource Futures Program, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Canberra.
Everson, Derek (Mr): Water Management Division, DIPNR, Sydney, New South Wales.
Fisher, Sarah (Ms): Senior Planning Engineer, Infrastructure Planning Branch, Water Corporation, Leederville, Western Australia.
Fitt, Gary P. (Dr): Chief Executive Officer, Australian Cotton Cooperative Research Centre, Narrabri, New South Wales.
Fitzgerald, Bruce (Mr): Water Management Division, DIPNR, Sydney, New South Wales.
Ghadiri, Hossein (Dr): Senior Lecturer, Centre for Riverine Landscapes, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Griffith University, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland.
Grafton, R. Quentin (Prof.): International and Development Economics, Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government, ANU.
Hamblin, Ann (Dr): Visiting Fellow, CRES, ANU.
Hazell, Donna (Dr): Post Doctoral Fellow, CRES, ANU.
Hughes, Robert (Mr): Manager System Control, SA Water Corporation, Adelaide, South Australia.
Jakeman, Anthony, J. (Prof.): Director, Integrated Catchment Assessment and Management (iCAM) Centre, ANU.
Johnson, Ken (Mr): School of Resources, Environment and Society, ANU.
Jotzo, Frank (Mr): PhD candidate, CRES, ANU.
Locher, Helen (Dr): Environmental Programs Manager, Hydro Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.
Logan, John (Mr): Chairman, Western Agricultural Industries Pty Limited, Neutral Bay, Sydney, NSW.
Magee, John (Dr): Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth II Fellow, Department of Earth and Marine Sciences, Faculty of Science, ANU.
Martin, Gary (Mr): Manager Water Services, Bowen Shire Council, 67 Herbert Street, Bowen, Queensland.
McKenzie, Neil (Dr): Research Group Leader, CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.
McLeod, Ivan (Dr): Project Manager, Western Agricultural Industries Pty Limited, Perth, Western Australia.
Meehan, David (Mr): Project Manager, Office of Major Projects, Department of Industry and Resources, Perth, Western Australia.
Neilson, Danielle (Ms): Marketing Services Officer, Snowy Hydro Limited, Cooma, New South Wales.
Nix, Henry (Emeritus Prof.): Visiting Fellow, CRES, ANU.
Ollier, Cliff (Prof.): School of Earth and Geographic Science, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia.
Pagan, Adrian (Emeritus Prof.): Economics Program, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU.
Parsons, Andrew (Mr): Engineering and Projects, SA Water Corporation, Adelaide.
Perkins, Paul (Adjunct Prof.): CRES, ANU.
Ray, Binayak (Mr): Visiting Fellow, Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU.
Rebello, Gerry (Mr): Water Management Division, DIPNR, Sydney, New South Wales.
Rose, Deborah (Dr): Senior Fellow, CRES, ANU.
Smith, David Ingle (Mr): Visiting Fellow, CRES, ANU.
Smith, Peter (Mr): Manager of the Utility Services, BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance, Riverside Centre, Brisbane, Queensland.
Stein, Janet (Mrs): Research Officer and PhD Candidate, CRES, ANU.
Walkemeyer, Peter (Mr): Project Manager, Project Management Branch, Water Corporation, Leederville, Western Australia.
West, Adam (Mr): Water Planning Coordinator, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Townsville.
White, Geoffrey B. (Mr): Chairman, White Industries Australia Limited, Suite 214, Harrington Street, Sydney, New South Wales.

B. Other countries

Alemi, Manucher (Dr): Office of Water Use Efficiency, Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, California, USA.
Day, J. Chadwick (Emeritus Prof.): School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6, Canada.
Flugel, Wolfgang-Albert (Prof.): Chair and Head, Department of Geoinformatics, Hydrology and Modelling, Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena, Germany.
Fried, Jean (Prof.): Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France.
Howard, Ken (Prof.): Groundwater Research Group, Scarborough Campus, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Letolle, René (Prof.): Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6), Campus Jussieu, Paris, France.
Quinn, Frank (Dr): Formerly, Chief of Water Policy and Transboundary Issues, Environment Canada, Ottawa, Canada.
Renzetti, Steven (Prof.): Department of Economics, Brock University, Ontario, Canada.
Reynolds, Dean (Dr): Associate Land and Water Use Analyst, Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, California, USA.
Shao, Xuejun (Prof.): Department of Hydraulic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
Shields, Tina (Ms): Assistant Manager, Water Department, Resource Planning and Management, Imperial Irrigation District, California, USA.
Storey, Brit Allan (Dr): Senior Historian, US Bureau of Reclamation, Denver, Colorado, USA.
Tharme, Rebecca (Ms): International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Wolfgang, Carolann (Dr): Geohydrologist, SAIC, 525 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, California, USA.

Our special thanks go to Professor Anthony Jakeman for his support of this project and Professor Angela Arthington for writing the section on “Environmental Flow Requirements of Rivers”. We also thank Dr Anthony Scott for his valuable comments and copy-editing, Mr Clive Hilliker for graphics and Dr McComas Taylor for his valuable editorial advice.

1Department of Infrastructure, Planing and Natural Resources.
2Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies.
3The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
4Integrated Catchment Assessment and Management Centre.

List of Abbreviations


Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics


Australian Capital Territory


Alternative Dispute Resolution


Australian Height Datum


Australian Labor Party


Above Mean Sea Level


Average Natural Flow


Assessment of the Status of Human-Induced Soil Degradation


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission


Building Block Methodology


Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited


BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance




Colorado-Big Thompson


California Irrigation Management Information System


Commander of order of St Michael and St George


Cooperative Research Centre


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


Central Utah Project


Central Utah Water Conservancy District


Central Valley Project


Central Valley Project Improvement Act


Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs


Department of Land and Water Conservation (currently Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources)


Downstream Response to Imposed Flow Transformations


Department of Water Resources


Environmental Assessment


Electrical Conductivity


Environmental Flow Assessment


Environmental Flow Requirement


Environmental Impact Statement


East Bay Municipal Utility District


Environmental Protection Authority


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations




Full Supply Level


Gross Domestic Product


Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment


Geographic Information System


Global Assessment of Soil Degradation


Gigawatt hours


Hectare (10 000 m2)


Hydro-Electric Commission


Healthy Rivers Commission


Infrastructure Development Corporation


International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme


Imperial Irrigation District


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


International Soil Reference and Information Centre


International Water Management Institute


Integrated Water Supply Scheme




Kilowatt hours

L h−1 d−1

Litre per head per day


Liquefied petroleum gas






Cubic metre




Murray–Darling Basin


Murray–Darling Basin Commission.


Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council


Mareeba–Dimbulah Irrigation Area


Mareeba–Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme


Memorandum of Understanding


Million tonnes




Metropolitan Water District


Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District


Non Government Organisations


New South Wales


Northern Territory


National Water Commission


National Water Development Agency


National Water Initiative


Ord River Irrigation Area


Ord River Irrigation Scheme


Office of Water Use Efficiency


Permanent Court of Arbitration


Part per billion


Part per million


People's Republic of China




Research and Development




South Australia


San Diego County Water Authority


Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority


South-to-North Water Transfer Project


Southern Oscillation Index


State Water Project


State Water Resources Control Board


Strawberry Water User's Association


Tonne (1000 kg)


Tonnes per annum


Total Dissolved Solids


United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation


Uniform Resource Locater


United States Bureau of Reclamation


United States Reclamation Service




Western Australia


Western Agricultural Industries Pty Limited


World Commission on Dams


Water and Rivers Commission



1 The United States Reclamation Service was established within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in July 1902. Then, in 1907, the Secretary of Interior separated the Reclamation Service from the USGS and created an independent bureau within the Department of the Interior. In 1923 the agency was renamed the “United States Bureau of Reclamation” ( visited in April 2005).

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