Our History

Our History

Delivering water for prosperity


1881 - The Water Supply Department of Queensland is constituted to take over functions of water supply formerly conducted by the Harbours and Rivers Department. Hydraulic engineer J.B. Henderson is appointed.


1920 - The Premier of Queensland, E.G.Theodore, throws his support behind the Dawson River Irrigation project in central Queensland, the state’s first major water supply scheme.

1922 - Irrigation and Water Supply Commission is formed. Commissioner Archibald Frederick Partridge is appointed.

1923 - The first weir is built on the Dawson River and parcels of irrigated land are made available to returned soldiers. The town of Theodore is built from scratch to service the irrigation area, while the first State Government irrigation scheme, the Dawson Valley scheme, begins operation in 1926.

1928 - Tobacco is first grown on the Atherton Tableland. In the decades that follow it becomes an important cash crop instrumental in opening large areas of Far North Queensland to agriculture.


1948 - The British Food Corporation grows sorghum near Emerald for the first time, proving the area is suitable for cropping. As agriculture grows, so does the need for stable water supplies. The decision is made in 1968 to build Fairbairn Dam, the state’s second biggest dam — behind the Burdekin Falls Dam. Fairbairn Dam was completed in 1972.


1952 - Marian Weir is built on the Pioneer River, becoming the first building block of the Pioneer Water Supply Scheme that supplies water to the prosperous sugarcane farms west of Mackay. In this sugar town story, Marian Smith, a secretary employed at the first sugar mill in the district, inspires the naming of the mill, the town that subsequently grew up around it as well as the weir.

1953 - St George Water Supply Scheme Scheme is approved, underpinning the Balonne region’s cotton industry. Its initial storage was the Jack Taylor Weir at St George but the scheme was enhanced with the completion of the Beardmore Dam in 1967.


1961 - Construction of Leslie Dam near Warwick on the Darling Downs begins. It was finished in 1965, providing improved water security for Warwick as well as irrigation for the rich Downs agricultural sector. The dam was raised in 1986, doubling its storage capacity.


1978 - The Queensland Government approves a plan to build a coal-fired electricity generation plant at Tarong near Nanango. The project includes the construction of the Boondooma Dam on the Boyne River and a 95-km pipeline to supply water to the power station. The dam was completed in 1982.


1984 - Construction begins on the Bjelke-Petersen Dam, completed in 1988, with the dam’s spillway raised in 2007. The dam forming Lake Barambah is named after the fiercely pro-development former state premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who presides over an unprecedented period of dam building in the State. The region becomes home to Queensland’s emerging wine industry.

1987 - Queensland's largest dam, the Burdekin Falls Dam south-west of Ayr, is completed, with a capacity four times that of Sydney Harbour. This was the last great dam project completed in Australia, providing water security for the sugar industry around Ayr and Home Hill and augmenting the urban water supply for Townsville.


1990 - Peter Faust Dam on the Proserpine River is completed, supplying water to the fast-growing Whitsunday region. Just as the dam is completed a massive downpour promptly fills it.


2005 - Paradise Dam opens in December 2005, built on the historical gold mining town of Paradise about 20 km north-west of Biggenden and 80 km south-west of Bundaberg. Paradise Dam is designed with environmental features including unique fishway systems and a turtle hatchery to ensure local turtle populations continue to thrive in the Burnett River system.

2011 - The waters of Kinchant Dam, 40 km west of Mackay, attract global attention when Mackay man Willem Reichard posts his 41.5 kg barramundi catch to social media and the image goes viral. The Kinchant monster catch sets a M-15 kg line class world record. Numerous Sunwater dams are stocked with fish and many feature state-of-the-art fish movement technology. Fishing is one of the recreational activities, including boating, camping and fishing, enjoyed across Sunwater dams.

2018 - Sunwater invests $40 million in the Dam Improvement Program to ensure high levels of safety at all dams. Projects include continued construction on the Fairbairn Dam Spillway to ensure the long-term viability of the 1.3 million ML dam near Emerald as well as a suite of projects involving Queensland’s largest dam, the vital 1.86 million ML Burdekin Falls Dam.
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