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Bundaberg's Paradise Dam capacity to be reduced to 42pc despite drought

By Johanna Marie and staff, Wednesday September 25, 2019 - 10:22 EST
ABC image
In 2013, water flowed over the spillway of Paradise Dam. - ABC

SunWater has confirmed it will release 105,000 megalitres from Paradise Dam in the drought-declared Bundaberg region, permanently reducing the dam's capacity for safety reasons.



The dam, which was built by the Queensland government and opened in 2006 with a 300,000ML capacity, is currently 75 per cent full and was damaged by floods in 2011 and 2013.

About 80,000ML will be available to local irrigators, with the remainder of the water to be collected by two weirs downstream.

In an email to Bundaberg Irrigators early on Tuesday morning, SunWater revealed: "Releases have commenced from Paradise Dam ahead of the 2019/20 wet season to proactively reduce the dam's water storage level to 42 per cent.

"While the dam is safe under normal and current forecast weather conditions, detailed investigations have shown that there are issues with the dam in the unlikely event of another one-in-200-year event like 2013."



Queensland Mines and Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said releasing the water would help the drought-ravaged region.

"We're releasing 80,000 megalitres into a drought-affected community. Bundaberg and its regions are suffering from drought, so this water will be well received," Dr Lynham said.

"We're hoping all this water will be taken up by farmers in this area. It will help them immensely during this difficult time."

The 80,000ML of water — equivalent to 32,000 Olympic swimming pools — will be released by SunWater and made available free of charge to irrigators along the Burnett River for approximately 10 weeks.

Irrigators said they were shocked by the decision, and said much of the water would go straight out to sea and would not be used on farms.

Peak water demand in December

Bundaberg SunWater irrigator advisory committee chairman Mark Mammino said the water would go to waste.

"I struggle to comprehend how a decision like this could be made when we've got areas of Queensland in the worst drought for a long period of time [and] we've had fires where the firefighters have struggled to find water to put fires out," Mr Mammino said.

"Many growers aren't in the position to use it at this point in time — they may not even have crops in the ground.

"In reality much of our crops won't reach peak water usage until that Christmas period.



"It's devastating, you look around and it's so dry everywhere.

"If I was a grazier in an area where there is no water — look at Stanthorpe or Warwick where the towns are running out of water — to see this water being wasted."

Mr Mammino said there were long-term consequences from lowering the dam wall by 5 metres.

"Five metres is just the initial stage, until they do a proper thorough investigation of what the true levels could be," he said.

"We've heard reports it could be a lowering of up to 17 metres, which to us, it compromises our water security going forward."



Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said he wanted an inquiry into the operation of the dam and for the State Government to fast-track a study into the long-term water security of the Bundaberg region.

"Bundaberg hasn't had water restrictions since Paradise Dam was built in 2006. We're in the middle of a drought and it's a concern that future water supply won't be sufficient to meet all agricultural, industrial and domestic requirements," he said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the decision was made for safety reasons.

"At the moment, we do need to lower the dam, I think, roughly around 5 metres," Ms Palaszczuk said.



"That has to be done now so we can get the business case done to look at actually what are the next steps in terms of rebuilding that dam.

"So for a safety reason it has to come down, and it has to be done in time for the next wet season so we have to lower that dam now.

"Safety is our number one concern and that is why that measure has been taken.

"Water will be offered to those communities around that dam for free. Also too let's not forget Bundaberg is a region that is drought-declared at the moment."

Entire agriculture industry could be impacted

By permanently reducing Paradise Dam's capacity, irrigators fear it will affect water security for the region's entire agriculture industry.

"There's a lot of irrigators that have moved into tree crops that rely on water, year in year out, this is putting a lot of those potential crops severely at risk if there's no water security," Mr Mammino said.

"It's disappointing this was just thrown at us, and there was no opportunity to consult with us.

"I've had a lot of growers calling me saying they would prefer to pay for their water and have long-term security, than have free water for one year and potentially lose their water security going forward."

Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said it was a "kick in the guts for producers … that the Queensland State Labor Government would — in the middle of a drought — announce they will spend up to $100 million to reduce the height of the wall of Paradise Dam".

"I don't see how you are helping farmers by reducing the storage capacity of the newest dam in the country," he said.

"The idea that they can just magically pull water out of the river at a time of the Government's choosing.

"I say to Minister Lynham, if you can find more than $200 million for Brisbane-based bureaucrats for bonuses, this is a critical part of infrastructure for our region and how can we expand if you take away out water?"



Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett said locals had been in tears over the dam announcement.

"The industry woke up this morning with no indication this was going to happen … people have found it distressing," he said.

"No-one in their right mind would, particularly in a drought, allocate every last drop of water out of the Paradise.

"We need the water — water is life. In a drought would you prefer excess water or no water?

"I ask why we have spent tens of millions of dollars since 2013 repairing the wall, and of course never raising it with the people of Bundaberg that there may have been a safety concern."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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