Sunwater pours cold water on Paradise rethink

Bundaberg growers query technical advice on Paradise Dam at lunch

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Panel discussion: Queensland Country Hour presenter Arlie Felton-Taylor, Urannah Water Scheme director John Cotter, Sunwater chair Leith Boully, and Riparian Capital Partners managing director Nick Waters. Pictures: Melody Labinsky.

Panel discussion: Queensland Country Hour presenter Arlie Felton-Taylor, Urannah Water Scheme director John Cotter, Sunwater chair Leith Boully, and Riparian Capital Partners managing director Nick Waters. Pictures: Melody Labinsky.

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The validity of the technical advice that Sunwater is using to justify its decision to lower the wall of Paradise Dam at Bundaberg by five metres came under fire at the Rural Press Club lunch in Brisbane last week.

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The validity of the technical advice that Sunwater is using to justify its decision to lower the wall of Paradise Dam at Bundaberg by five metres came under fire at the Rural Press Club lunch in Brisbane last week.

A sold-out crowd of 270 heard Sunwater chairwoman and panelist for the What is Queensland's water future debate, Leith Boully use a cancer analogy to explain the reason behind plans to lower the problem dam's spillway.

"If you had a number of medical practitioners diagnose you with cancer, and there was some uncertainty about what the type of cancer was, how the treatments were going to work, would you delay a couple of years until the science was more robust or your family or community had a better view about what your success rate might be," Ms Boully said.

"I look at Paradise in that way - Sunwater was given very, very good technical advice about the safety of the dam wall.

"That advice said to the board of directors, who are responsible, that there was a risk to lives of people who live downstream of the wall and that risk was significant.

"I couldn't and I doubt any of you could, take a decision that we might just put it off until we know a little bit more."

Speakers representing the Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers were insistent that more testing needed to be undertaken.

One of them, Michael McMahon responded that if his child had cancer he would want to make sure he had the best advice and a variety of second opinions before they were operated on.

"Sunwater had a report from GHD - they had it peer reviewed to their credit - and that report states, on a number of occasions, the inadequacy and the limited testing that was done," he said.

"They agreed with GHD, based on the information you have at hand that really, before you make any big decisions, you need to have a closer look at this.

"It says that in Sunwater's own engineer's report.

"We've commissioned our own engineer who also states that the testing's been inadequate and yet here we are, we're a few weeks away from when they put an excavator on that wall and take that wall down."

That engineer, global geotechnical expert Dr Paul Rizzo, together with compacted concrete engineering specialist Steve Tatro and international authority on RCC dams Dr Ernest Schrader, presented evidence at the Paradise Dam Commission of Inquiry in Brisbane on Monday.

According to a Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers release, Dr Rizzo said he had strong concerns regarding the use of core samples as a means for testing cohesion of the dam layers and for coming to the conclusion that the dam had stability issues.

He went on to say the existing data obtained by Sunwater over the past decade or so was "inadequate, misleading and insufficient to assess the integrity and safety of Paradise Dam."

The uncertainty that Bundaberg growers are feeling about their future was highlighted by Mr McMahon at the Rural Press Club lunch when said he was speaking on behalf of the many people who had invested a lot of money on a guarantee of water but who now felt they had no certainty about their future.

"If the dam's at 40 per cent, are you telling me that I've got the same security I had before, when the dam was at 100pc," he asked Ms Boully.

"That's exactly what I'm telling you," Ms Boully responded, after earlier saying Sunwater was making sure existing water holders' rights were protected.

"In fact people's allocations will be enhanced by the measures that we're putting in place in order to secure those allocations in future years," she said.

Sunwater chief Leith Boully.

Sunwater chief Leith Boully.

Asked by panel chair Arlie Felton-Taylor whether the allocations could be guaranteed, Ms Boully responded that the way they were calculated was very difficult.

"What I can say is, 100pc allocations for this year and we will have water allocations in the next water year somewhere around 80pc or higher at the beginning of the year."

Questioned further by Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers spokeswoman Bree Grima on how much water would be available for irrigators if the dam wall were reduced 10m, Ms Boully said she couldn't give an exact number.

"What I can say is that, our understanding is that at a 10m reduction, existing entitlement holders' rights will be preserved, and there will still be some water available for growth opportunities.

"If there were to be a 10m reduction in the wall, you have heard the state minister Lynham say on a number of occasions that alternative infrastructure options would be investigated in order to take up the water that was no longer sitting behind the dam wall."

That was welcomed by Ms Grima who hoped the options were progressed quickly.

Ms Boully was also questioned by Greg McMahon, who said he'd done modelling and bought water through tender just prior to the problem with the dam being announced.

He said a drop in water levels put a hole in his model and asked what discussions had taken place around reinstating the dam to full capacity and what that would cost.

Ms Boully's response was that Building Queensland had been engaged to undertake the options analysis for the remediation of the dam, which she understood was complete and with the government, and that it would be the government who would make an announcement when it worked through its own processes.

"In terms of the allocation that you owned prior to purchasing water in the tender in 2018, all of that allocation is secure no matter which option is selected by government to remediate the dam," she said.

A clearly exasperated Ms Boully concluded by saying "it would be really useful for Sunwater to have all of the local industry groups working together and collaboratively on looking for solutions that are going to meet the local community's needs, and that we are actually able to implement".

Questioned later about processes for that to happen, a Sunwater spokeswoman said there were three engagement forums, the Paradise Dam Community reference group that met monthly, the Burnett Catchment Industry Forum, and the Bundaberg Water Supply Scheme Irrigator Advisory Committee that met quarterly.

The BCIF is made up of representatives from four of the region's irrigation and agricultural groups, of which the Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers is one.

It met for the first time in February and the spokeswoman said it would meet again soon to discuss the Building Queensland options report for Paradise Dam.

Ms Boully added that nothing would be gained by fighting each other and trying to play the outcomes out in the media.

"Let's set aside some of this name calling and work together."

Michael McMahon said it wasn't so much consultation or engagement they were offered but being told this is the way it is.

"We don't need any more ability to engage with Sunwater," he said.

"I still think their determination to reduce the spillway is a mistake, and I'm not going to stop fighting for that."

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