The Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce will chair a new ministerial working group set up to identify new infrastructure projects that can deliver Australia’s water supply needs in the future.

The first task of the group, which was established by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, will be to identify priorities, investment and processes to fast-track development.

Minister Joyce said water infrastructure had to keep pace with economic opportunities in Australia’s region and with national population growth.“

Australia's population is expected to reach 35 million by 2050 and we also have to take advantage of the growing wealth of hundreds of millions of people who live close by,” Minister Joyce said.

“This ministerial working group gives us the opportunity to prioritise our water and infrastructure needs – both by upgrading existing infrastructure or building new infrastructure, and some of these are already in the pipeline.

”Minister Joyce said the ministerial working group was part of a Coalition commitment to plan for the dams of the future, and was evidence of the Abbott Government’s wider commitment to build infrastructure and the group would begin its work immediately.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Simon Birmingham said that Australia’s naturally variable climate means that we must look for new water infrastructure opportunities that are both innovative and sustainable.

“The ministerial working group brings together key areas of the government including infrastructure, water, agriculture and the environment to push forward the Prime Minister’s goal of building productive infrastructure for the future,” said Senator Birmingham.”

This group will look at new dams as well as options like harvesting and storing water in underground aquifers to further boost the efficient and sustainable utilisation of our water resources.

”Under the guidelines outlined by the Prime Minister, the ministerial working group will:

Identify how investment in water infrastructure, such as dams, could be accelerated, including methods for assessing feasibility and cost benefit analysis of particular proposals, the role of Infrastructure Australia, and financing.

Identify priorities for investment in new or existing dams, including the merit of proposals already well-developed and the productivity and/or economic benefits of new or existing dams.

Outline how proposed approaches will improve the management of Australia’s water resources to support economic development, flood mitigation and respond to community and industry needs.

Consider opportunities for ground water storage (aquifers), water reuse and water efficiency to ensure investment in dams occurs where it is the most suitable solution.

Take account of economic, social and environmental considerations, including consistency with National Water Initiative principles. The working group will consult with state and territory governments to understand their priorities and how they can best work together.

Members of the group will be:

Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP, Chair

Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Warren Truss MP

Minister for Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Hon. Jamie Briggs MP

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham.

The group’s water infrastructure options paper will be developed by July 2014 so that its outcomes can be considered as part of the White Papers on Northern Australia and Agricultural Competitiveness.