Weather News

Bundaberg farmers take legal action to stop Queensland Government lowering Paradise Dam wall

By Johanna Marie and Eliza Goetze, Friday May 22, 2020 - 17:43 EST
ABC image
The group of farmers say more testing is needed to determine the future of the dam. - ABC

Farmers in Queensland's Bundaberg region are taking legal action in a last-ditch effort to stop the State Government lowering the wall of the Paradise Dam, with just days left until work begins.

A judicial review has been filed in the Supreme Court of Queensland against the Director General of the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, and dam operator Sunwater.

While the government said the works were a vital safety measure to alleviate structural and stability issues, growers feared if the dam's capacity was cut, investment in the region would run dry.

Bundaberg lawyer Tom Marland said the judicial review was on behalf of 24 concerned growers, and could cost them up to $500,000.

"This is effectively our last option as we have to take this to court," Mr Marland said.

"It's actually a very sad day when hard working farmers have to take their own State Government to court to try and get some common sense."

He said they were also asking for an injunction to urgently halt the work from starting on the spillway.

"[Work should be halted] until such time as we have all the information available to us in relation to what's actually wrong with the dam and how it may be fixed," Mr Marland said.

"Bundaberg grows 25 per cent of Australia's fresh produce, and at a time where we're in international lockdowns, we should be trying to protect these types of infrastructure, not tear them down."

It was the last opportunity growers had to act, as Sunwater received its final environmental approval and planned for construction work to begin on Monday to to lower the spillway by 5.8 metres.

The dam operator confirmed it was notified of the court action, but declined to comment further.

Questions over remediation options

Paradise Dam opened in 2006 and underwent repairs after it was damaged in the floods of 2011 and 2013.

In September, Sunwater revealed concerns the roller-compacted concrete dam could fail in another major flood, and proceeded to drain the 300,000 megalitre dam to 42 per cent of its capacity.

A Commission of Inquiry into the dam was established, and its 580-page report was tabled in State Parliament on Thursday.

The independent inquiry found concrete used in the dam wall's construction may have been "intrinsically incapable" of meeting design standards.

Mr Marland said the report validated their calls for further testing on the dam's strength.

"We are seeking to rely on that report as part of our legal proceedings," he said.

The case before the Supreme Court contended that safety risks "[could] be actively managed," and that the State Government failed to consider every option in its haste to act.

Farmers fighting for water security

The Wide Bay Burnett's booming macadamia industry — the largest in the country — was one of several burgeoning crops at the centre of the argument to maintain the Paradise Dam's full capacity.

Farmer Michael McMahon and his family were backing the court action.

This month, he began planting close to 80,000 macadamia trees on the family property.

"It's an investment we're planning to have for decades," Mr McMahon said.

"Our biggest fear is if we don't fight and we don't stand up to the government and Sunwater on this, there is no plan to restore that capacity in our scheme."

If the dam's capacity was reduced, he said, he would have to invest in more water and to pay more for it.

"We'll have to hope that water's available in the future when we need it," he said.

Building Queensland has until next year to make a firm recommendation to the government on the future of Paradise Dam.

Plans to lower the spillway push ahead

A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Mines said the Director General "considered a range of information, evidence and expert advice in amending the dam safety conditions which applied to Paradise Dam, including technical reports, ... before making the decision to lower the spillway."

Minister Anthony Lynham maintained the work to lower the spillway would begin on Monday, despite the pending legal action.

"An independent Commission of Inquiry considers that Sunwater’s position in responding to the risks associated with the dam is reasonable," the Minister said.

"Again, I say to the people of Bundaberg: Your safety is the government and Sunwater’s primary concern."


© ABC 2020

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

China announces expansion to weather modification program, artificial rain to cover area bigger than size of India

19:18 EDT

China has revealed plans over the next five years to expand its experimental weather modification program, to cover an area greater than the size of India with artificial rainfall.

NSW SES admits handling of 2017 Lismore flood 'didn't go according to plan'

14:29 EDT

The State Emergency Service has admitted "things didn't go according to plan" in the 2017 flood that devastated Lismore and Murwillumbah on the NSW North Coast.