Paradise Dam on October 29.
Paradise Dam on October 29.

A month of Paradise lost: photos show rapid decline of water

THE day after Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham announced that 105,000ML of water would be removed from Paradise Dam in preparation for construction work on the spillway, staff at the nearby caravan park began taking photographs.

What they have done is show how a bureacratic capital city decision impacts the water level in a more meaningful way than a six-digit number.

The caravan park has supplied 30 photographs to the NewsMail dating back to Wednesday, September 25, when the dam was at 75 per cent capacity.

The last photo taken on Tuesday shows the dam at 55 per cent.

The dam owner Sunwater intends to lower the water to 42 per cent capacity in order to prepare for construction on the spillway, which it plans to lower by five metres after the wet season next year.

How the water is being used

SUNWATER explained that it is releasing 1730ML of water from Paradise Dam each day.

400ML of this daily release has passed over the Ben Anderson Barrage since Monday, meaning that it can no longer be used for irrigation.

The rest of it is being used across the Bundaberg Water Supply Scheme, and is being offered for free.

25,000ML of the total release is being stored in Ned Churchward Weir and Ben Anderson Barrage.

100ML each day is flowing into Elliott River, Mahogany Creek, Gregory River, and Logging Creek.

Sunwater has filled Gregory Weir, which supplies drinking water to Childers and Woodgate.

Water has been distributed to McCoy's Creek, near the Bundaberg Airport, to be held in reserve for firefighting.

The political criticism

YESTERDAY five LNP MPs at a Federal and State level have signed a letter and have sent it to Dr Lynham, criticising the 400ML being wasted each day.

The letter was signed by Federal MPs Keith Pitt and Ken O'Dowd, and State MPs Stephen Bennett, David Batt, and Colin Boyce, who noted how the water release was pitched by Dr Lynham when he announced his decision on September 24.

"The State Government's decision to permanently reduce Paradise Dam to 42 per cent capacity was initially touted by you as good news for our region, with free water for all," their letter said.

"However, as you would be aware, the announcement has inflicted much anxiety, confusion, and honest fury within our community.

"The permanent five metre reduction in the dam's spillway has the potential to change our region in its entirety."

The LNP want an inquiry to investigate the dam's failings.

Bundaberg Mayor's parliamentary petition

BUNDABERG Mayor Jack Dempsey put together a parliamentary petition last week, which was approved unanimously by his councillors.

The e-petition has had 2500 digital signatures so far, but is available until February, 2020.

His petition urges the State Government to release the technical reports that show what is wrong with Paradise Dam.

It also puts pressure on the State Government to examine the options to rebuild the water, and to replace the wasted water that is being released from the dam.

"I'm not sure the decision makers in Brisbane have heard loudly enough that people in the Bundaberg region want answers," Cr Dempsey said.

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey explains in a media conference the need to have a parliamentary petition regarding Paradise Dam.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey explains in a media conference the need to have a parliamentary petition regarding Paradise Dam.

The difference between a dam inquiry and an emergency management review

THE State Government makes it sound like an inquiry into the dam, which cost more than $200 million to build more than 13 years ago, is unnecessary, considering that an emergency management review is being compiled.

Its ministers also say that the LNP's push for an inquiry is a time-delaying tactic, and action needs to be taken immediately because the safety of downstream communities including Bundaberg were at risk.

These are two different things. A proposed inquiry would look at the past issues, while the review would look at responding to future emergencies.

The first looks at the problems, and potentially who was to blame, while the second looks at the safety of downstream communities during future extreme flooding events.

Dr Lynham said the flood management report would be examined by the Inspector-General of Emergency Management, Building Queensland, and an independent US expert who is considering Sunwater's and GHD's reports.

"The Government listens to the experts on these important issues of public safety and water security," he said.

The Office of the Inspector-General of Emergency Management is State Government controlled. It was asked when the report would be completed and if it would examine why the dam was damaged.

It provided a statement which did not answer the questions directly.

An office spokesman said the Paradise Dam Preparedness Review will cover numerous things, including how recommendations from reports following a flood in 2013 had been used.

"The review, which is being undertaken as a priority, will look at local preparedness for a future significant flood event affecting the Paradise Dam in the Burnett river system, and will be completed as soon as possible," the spokesman said.

A file photo of Paradise Dam taken several years ago.
A file photo of Paradise Dam taken several years ago. Max Fleet BUN231013DAM3

What's wrong with the dam?

THE honest answer: we do not know.

However, the NewsMail understands that it may be a new concreting issue which Sunwater engineers discovered.

Regardless, the dam's integrity could not be guaranteed during extreme weather events.

When visiting Bundaberg on Tuesday, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said it involved "some issues identified by the dam engineer".

"I'm not a dam engineer and I don't want to try and communicate complex things that dam engineers are expert at," Ms Trad said.

Sunwater chairwoman Leith Boully said it was working on the State Government's dam improvement program.

"We discovered a structural problem relating to the concrete in the dam wall," she said.

"Sunwater immediately acted to further examine the issue and understand what it meant for the dam, including seeking advice from national and international experts.

"Please be assured that under normal and forecast weather conditions Paradise Dam is safe."

Former Burnett MP Rob Messenger raised concerns about the dam in 2006.
Former Burnett MP Rob Messenger raised concerns about the dam in 2006. Alistair Brightman

The dam's difficult history

THE dam's construction phase has had its controversy due to environmental concerns for lungfish, a workforce strike, and the liquidation of the original builder, Walter Construction Group, during the construction phase in February, 2005.

The builder collapsed because its German parent company Walter Bau AG, became insolvent after failing to secure credit.

But the State Government's entity Burnett Water was connected to the project as well.

At the time, general manager Graeme Newton said that the original builder was only part of an alliance of five companies working on the project, and that the wages of the 372 workers were paid by the Queensland Government.

Then in May of that year, dam workers went on strike.

It was reported that one of the issues of the strike was that workers were given directions that contradicted health and safety protocol.

In 2006 under the Bligh Government, the Burnett MP, Rob Messenger, raised concerns in parliament that the dam was leaking, but his response was dismissed.

He went on a tour of the dam later that year, where he was informed that a granite outcrop on the side of the dam known colloquially as "the pimple" was causing an issue in the dam's flexible design.

In 2013's flood the dam was damaged. Sunwater denied at the time that the structural problems were caused by the granite outcrop.

THEN AND NOW: The 30-day difference since water started being released from Paradise Dam, taken from nearby angles at the same location. 

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