Urgent call to stop Paradise being lost

Industry reacts angrily to Paradise Dam water release, spillway lowering

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Opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Burnett MP Stephen Bennett were among those condemning the release of 105,000 megalitres from the Paradise Dam and plan to lower the spillway. Photo supplied.

Opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Burnett MP Stephen Bennett were among those condemning the release of 105,000 megalitres from the Paradise Dam and plan to lower the spillway. Photo supplied.

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As thousands of megalitres of water began flowing from the Paradise Dam near Bundaberg on Thursday, community and industry leaders were condemning the move and calls were being made to urgently halt the release.

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As thousands of megalitres of water began flowing from the Paradise Dam near Bundaberg on Thursday, community and industry leaders were condemning the move and calls were being made to urgently halt the release.

Far from being the free water win the state government has branded it, farm lobby group AgForce and opposition leader Deb Frecklington slammed it as a failure of planning and a waste at the height of a drought.

Some 105,000 megalitres is being spilled that will reduce the dam's capacity to 42 per cent of its current size, and the spillway will be lowered by five metres once the upcoming wet season is over.

The explanation is that it's a necessary reduction by SunWater ahead of summer for safety reasons.

Natural resources minister Anthony Lynham said Cyclone Oswald and the resulting flood in 2013 caused significant damage in the dam's vicinity.

The issues associated with the dam's construction and flood damage since then have put it at the top of the state's dam improvement projects and meetings between SunWater officials and Bundaberg and North Burnett councils to discuss options have been taking place.

Options were to strengthen its walls at the current height or to lower the walls, with lowering the wall estimated to be between $50 and $150 million cheaper, according to a preliminary business case shown to councillors.

Despite those conversations, this week's sudden announcement caught local councils and industry by surprise.

Related: Calls to keep dam walls

Opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Burnett MP Stephen Bennett joined forces to call for the water release to stop immediately.

"When you've got the state of Queensland in the grip of a drought, every single drop is precious, so I am calling on Annastacia Palaszczuk to reverse this ridiculous decision; come to Bundaberg, listen to the people of this wonderful region and let's save every drop of this wonderful water we have," Ms Frecklington said.

Paradise Dam manager Gary Dundas, centre, joined opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett at the Paradise Dam site. He says turtles, platypuses and lungfish will be among those suffering from the loss of water.

Paradise Dam manager Gary Dundas, centre, joined opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett at the Paradise Dam site. He says turtles, platypuses and lungfish will be among those suffering from the loss of water.

Mr Bennett said the people of the North and South Burnett were confused, upset and frustrated about what was happening.

One South Burnett grazier, AgForce president Georgie Somerset was angry, describing the option to lower the Paradise Dam spillway rather than spend money to repair and improve it as a cop-out.

"This is a classic yet tragic example of the state government failing to invest adequately in infrastructure to support jobs, industry and growth in regional Queensland," she said.

"This will significantly reduce water available to local primary producers in the long term, not to mention residents, industry and small businesses in the region, when we are trying to grow Queensland's agriculture industry to $30 billion."

Read more: Councils take dam funding fight to government

Queensland LNP Senator Susan McDonald said the claim by minister Lynham that the release would somehow be welcome by farmers in the middle of a terrible drought was "yet another demonstration of how little this Labor government understands the challenges for farmers".

Bundaberg's economic hit

The water release is taking place on the doorstep of Bundaberg lawyer Tom Marland, whose family has a cattle operation at Gin Gin and he has wasted no time in condemning the action.

As well as asking how a dam built eight years before the 2013 cyclone could not withstand the resulting 1-in-100 year flood, he said the "knee jerk decision" placed the entire Bundaberg and Burnett River irrigation industry at risk.

While the dam has a capacity of 300,000ML, some 100,000ML of that has never been allocated, due to the cost of the water, according to Mr Marland.

"In the Burnett catchment the costs of electricity to pump water have increased by 500pc in the last 10 years alone - helping government-owned power companies reap in $1.7 billion in profits in 2018.

"Burnett irrigators are already making decisions not to use water because of the high cost of pumping it."

When Mr Marland's family bought an irrigation farm on the Burnett in 2012 to offset drought, the power bill was $15,000 a year.

"Now it is $15,000 per quarter and rising," he said. "We'll get access to the 'free' water but can't afford to pump it."

He said the timing of the release, amid dry conditions and no infield rain meant that crops were reduced and the majority of the water would flow out to sea.

The long term ramification would be that water security for irrigators would be cut by 60pc.

"Because of competing demand, prices for water will inevitably go up, investment certainty will go down and economic return will follow the same path," Mr Marland said.

Given that construction works to lower the dam's capacity was scheduled to begin in May next year and SunWater's decision came six years after the damaging flooding, Mr Marland called for the process to be delayed until a full and public review could be completed.

"This allows some time for sanity to prevail. The federal government must step in immediately and put this lunacy to an end."

Some 80,000 ML from the dam will be available over a 10 week period, and Dr Lynham said existing and "potential" new customers wanting to access water should contact SunWater on 131 589.

The story Urgent call to stop Paradise being lost first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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