Paradise Dam operators warn 60,000 people living downstream that its ‘safety standards’ fall short

Paradise Dam operators warn 60,000 people living downstream that its ‘safety standards’ fall short

About 60,000 people living downstream of Paradise Dam have been warned it is not up to “contemporary safety standards” as the state government prepares new plans to rebuild it.  

Key points:

  • Sunwater has recommended a new dam wall be built 70 metres downstream from the existing wall
  • Farmers who rely on the water have lost faith in the government to return the storage to capacity
  • The LNP is calling on the federal government to legislate to protect the rebuild

Operator Sunwater has revealed the poor quality of the concrete used to build the spillway means it cannot be safely mended or reinforced.

It has recommended that a new wall be built 70 metres downstream of the existing structure.

But local farmers, like canegrower Judy Plath, are worried the dam will never be restored to its original capacity. 

“I am devastated today, actually,” she said.

“The government are placing a 10 to 20 to 30-year delay in front of this community to supposedly rebuild a new wall.”

Canegrower Judy Plath does not believe the dam will be rebuilt in her lifetime.(ABC Wide Bay: Russell Varley)

While she was confident the current wall was safe, Ms Plath said there was now a new “cloud of uncertainty” over the region.

“I do not believe that I will see the new paradise dam wall built in my lifetime,” she said. 

“The prosperity of our economy relies on irrigated agriculture, and without Paradise Dam being at its full level of 300,000 megalitres, this community faces many, many years of uncertainty.

“I have very grave fears that the federal government will not approve the new Paradise Dam.”

Short of ‘safety standards’

Sunwater chief executive Glenn Stockton says work has improved the safety performance of the dam, but it is “to a level that is not yet at contemporary safety standards”.

“That is why we continue to develop the project to bring the asset up to those contemporary safety standards,” he said.

Sunwater CEO Glenn Stockton says the wall is currently safe but cannot be repaired.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

Labor State Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith said the risk was significant.

“Sunwater have highlighted that there are 60,000 people downstream of Paradise Dam who would be potentially in life-threatening danger should a failure occur,” he said. 

Mr Smith said the current government had “inherited” the dam from former Labor premier Peter Beattie.

“I think that Peter Beattie owes a personal apology to the people of Bundaberg and I would welcome that apology,” he said.

“We cannot change what happened five governments ago, but we can support our local growers on the ground and we can protect our community, our businesses and our industry.” 

The proposed new wall for Paradise Dam would be built immediately in front of the existing structure.(Supplied: Sunwater)

After lowering the wall in 2020, the state government committed to returning it to its original height, and secured matching funding from the federal government for the work. 

Queensland Minister for Water Glen Butcher said the project had the support of the federal Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek.

“She supports the option moving forward of investigating and doing detailed business case of a new dam wall for Paradise Dam,” he said. 

“The $1.2 billion delivered by the state and federal governments for this project is still there. 

“The last thing we want to do is put the security at risk for the people of Bundaberg with an asset that potentially won’t last a very, very severe event.”

An ‘absolute disgrace’

The dam was extensively damaged during the 2013 floods and later investigations revealed the full extent of the flaws.

Damage from 2013 floods exposed flaws in the Paradise Dam design.(Supplied: Sunwater)

LNP Member for Hinkler and former federal water minister Keith Pitt said the dam was critical for investment in the region. 

“It provides confidence for high value crops like tree crops, avocados, macadamias, horticulture,” he said.

“Without it, confidence will wane and investment will disappear and that is bad for our region and bad for growth.”

As the state government seeks new environmental approvals, Mr Pitt called on the federal government to legislate to protect the rebuild. 

“This has been an absolute disgrace,” he said.

“This is what happens when you build something to a price and not to a standard.

“It is a critical piece of infrastructure. It has to be delivered.

“I’ll be saying to Tanya Plibersek, not only fast track this but find a way to legislate it.”

The dam wall was lowered by 5.8 metres in 2020 due to safety concerns.(ABC News: David Shipton)

Ms Plibersek’s office directed the ABC’s questions to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

A spokesman said the federal government would work closely with the state government to support the water security needs of the region. 

“Before any further Australian government funding decisions are made, we will need to carefully consider the findings and any additional information provided by the Queensland government,” he said. 

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