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Queensland's troubled Paradise Dam overflows boosting short-term water for farmers

Tuesday November 16, 2021 - 23:50 AEDT
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Bundaberg citrus farmer Will Thompson says the dam capacity will be short lived and fears for long term water security.  - ABC

After weeks of decent rainfall, Queensland's controversial Paradise Dam is overflowing.

Almost 5,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water are spilling over the edge, but farmers enduring flooding and fickle water security are finding it hard to rejoice.

Lesley McDowell owns land in Morganville near Bundaberg and became trapped when outflows from the dam caused the Burnett River to rise and flood the road to her property.

"We are stuck in here. If it doesn't rain again, probably for five or more days, maybe a week," Ms McDowell said.

"Because it's back-up water from the river, we have to wait until the Burnett drops so we can actually get out and no doubt the road could be a little bit of a mess there too."

Paradise Dam peaked at 108 per cent capacity on Monday, experiencing inflows of up to 30,000 megalitres per day.

The spill renewed calls from landowners to restore the dam to its full capacity, following a decision from dam operator Sunwater and the state government to drop the dam wall 5.8 metres for structural safety and stability reasons in 2019.

"I think it's really sad what the government's doing with Paradise Dam, they need to just put the wall back up to its original glory," Ms McDowell said.

More to come

Tom Marland from Marland Law was leading a class-action lawsuit against Sunwater and the State Government on behalf of Bundaberg farmers.

He said more flooding would occur from the dam operating at half its 300,000 megalitre capacity.

"The water's taken a long time to come down the catchment, it started spilling over on Sunday night and it still hasn't gotten to Bundaberg," Mr Marland said.

"Traditionally that water was all stored in the dam, so it's actually quite a perverse situation where it's increasing flooding down the catchment.

"That's going to have an impact not only on local communities but on farmers."

Short-lived security

Bundaberg citrus farmer Will Thompson said growers welcomed the inflows after years of surviving off 20 per cent water allocations.

"It has actually guaranteed our crop going forward. Obviously, it is farming:We can have other weather events, but it's certainly provided security for my workforce," Mr Thompson said.

The dam sat at 30 per cent capacity just days before spilling, so farmers remained concerned the secure water supply would be short-lived.

Mr Thompson said it was difficult to watch overflows of water that could have been caught in a fully operating dam.

"You sort of have to shake your head and sit back:The positive is we have water to be able to grow our existing crop, but the concern is, are we going to have water in 15 months' time?" Ms McDowell.

"Quite a few growers in the region had already used up this year's allocations and were purchasing extremely expensive water just to maintain their plants ? not even to grow a crop, not even to be financially viable, but just to keep their trees alive."

The future of the dam

Sunwater's Colin Bendall said the company was working to determine what water allocations producers could expect following the dam overflowing.

"Producers could expect an increase in their announced allocation, we'll work through that in the next couple of days as the storages fill up downstream of Paradise Dam," he said.

Mr Bendall said work to improve the stability of the dam stopped after the dam overflowed.

"The essential works to lower the spillway to make the dam safe, the majority of that work's been completed," Mr Bendall said.

"The only additional work was on the fishway, so we've demobilised and removed all machinery."

Mr Marland said the community expected a decision from the State Government on the future of the dam in the coming months, with a report by Building Queensland due by the end of the year.

"Obviously we don't have access to those details, but the options are to restore the dam or keep it at its current level and effectively the costs are the same, we are advised," Mr Marland said.

"We hope the Premier doesn't allow the rainfall event to delay the decision, we need a decision to be made yesterday."

The State Government said it remained on track to deliver a decision by the end of the year.


© ABC 2021

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