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Seqwater 'ignored' consistent forecasts of flooding rain in 2011, court hears

By Talissa Siganto, Tuesday December 5, 2017 - 19:42 EDT

In the weeks before the 2011 Brisbane and Ipswich flood, Brisbane dam engineers were preoccupied about "adverse media effects" and "major embarrassment" if water was unnecessarily released from Wivenhoe Dam, a court has heard.

A landmark , began in the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney this week.

On Tuesday the court heard Seqwater, operator of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams, ignored its own operating manuals and acted too slowly, despite weather warnings.

Representing the plaintiffs, barrister Julian Sexton told the court Seqwater was concerned about releasing water ahead of the weather event because it might result in adverse and embarrassing media coverage if the forecast rain did not arrive.

The information, revealed in an email between a Seqwater flood engineer and its dam operations manager in December 2010, also suggested the company could be accused of "wasting water".

"Major embarrassment is not one of the objectives in the manual nor is concern about media reporting and public relations," Mr Sexton said.

Speaking outside court on behalf of the plaintiffs, Maurice Blackburn principal Rebecca Gilsenan said the Seqwater operations manual was very clear about the hierarchy of priorities.

"Starting with the safety of the dam and following with protection of urban areas from inundation," she said.

"Issues to do with adverse publicity are not issues that ought to dictate how they were protecting the safety and security of people downstream from the [Wivenhoe] dam."

Mr Sexton told the court Seqwater would have been mistaken in suggesting the south-east was at risk of running out of water and quoted several statements from the Bureau of Meteorology.

"The La Nina event was stronger than normal and the wet season was anticipated to be wetter than normal," he said.

"The wettest ever Spring, the wettest ever December, there'd been a flood event in October, there'd been two flood events in December.

"The Bureau of Meteorology on the 17th December 2010 predicted a 65 per cent chance of exceeding normal rainfall for the first quarter of 2011.

"It was unreasonable having regard to those factors to consider that ensuring the dams never went below supply level outweighed protecting urban Brisbane from extensive damage."

Flood victim Paul Nielsen from Sherwood in western Brisbane said he had no hesitation joining the lawsuit.

"It may give me some relief, it may not ... but a class action must find some reason for the flood," he said.

Floodwaters reached the second storey of his home and destroyed most of his belongings, leaving him with a damage bill in the tens of thousands of dollars.

"I have no photographs of me as a kid — I've got nothing, no passport, nothing," he said.

Mr Nielsen is expecting a "total reimbursement" from the class action.

The case is initially set down for two weeks and will then adjourn until next February.


© ABC 2017

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