Former Bundaberg MP Jack Dempsey and Energy and Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle during the term of the Newman Government. They tour Paradise Dam as Sunwater announced it began additional interim repairs. Photo: NewsMail
Former Bundaberg MP Jack Dempsey and Energy and Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle during the term of the Newman Government. They tour Paradise Dam as Sunwater announced it began additional interim repairs. Photo: NewsMail

Former minister was briefed on Paradise Dam’s flaws

GEOTECHNICAL drilling of Paradise Dam nine months after the 2013 flood showed flaws to the dam's dissipator slab.

Departmental briefing notes given to former Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle back in 2014 for the estimates hearing show the dam's owner, Sunwater, was taking action to address the problem five years ago.

A dissipator slab is the concrete at the bottom of a dam's spillway, and can be vulnerable when a large amount of water flows onto it.

"As part of the review, it was discovered in October 2013 that possible flaws within the dam's existing concrete dissipator slab meant it was possible damage could again occur to the slab in a major flood," the document said.

"As the dissipator slab protects the rock underlying the dam wall from scouring away during floods, this was a concerning discovery."

The fault was safe in ordinary conditions.

Sunwater was due to complete a safety review of Paradise Dam in 2025, but brought it forward to late 2013.

At the time it was scheduled to complete a series of dam safety reviews as well as a business case in March, 2015.

The opposition supplied the briefing notes to highlight the point that the Palaszczuk Government did not address the dam's failings for years, until it made the announcement in September to reduce the spillway by five metres.

For the sake of safety, the dam would be lowered to 42 per cent and 105,000ML of water would be released, with most of it offered for free to the drought affected community.

The dam's failings are the subject of a political battle, raised again by both sides in parliament yesterday.

Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said in parliament that the government took the advice of Sunwater to release the water, and reduce the spillway, for the safety of the public.

"This government is well aware of the impact of the long-running drought on our regional communities and on our food and fibre producers," Dr Lynham said.

"Two standpipes have been installed to make the water more accessible, and a third is being investigated with the Bundaberg Regional Council.

"Water is being released into four watercourses not normally supplied by the dam."

He was asked why it took so long for the government to address Paradise Dam's issues, as outlined in the briefing notes.

But due to the late notice of the NewsMail's questions and due to his availability in a parliamentary session, Dr Lynham was unable to respond before deadline.

But he said the problems addressed in the 2015 business case were separate issues to the ones that had led to the decision to lower the spillway. 

"Sunwater's dam safety improvement program is a rolling program that includes annual and comprehensive risk assessments for each of Sunwater's 19 dams," he said. 

"As the Sunwater chair said in our statement on September 24, the latest issues at Paradise were identified as part of the dam improvement program investigation." 

The dam cost about $240 million when built in 2005. 

But a further $65 million has been spent in repairs since March 2013 and up until mid-2017 to be able to follow the recommendations outlined since 2013, Dr Lynham said. 

"The Member for Caloundra (Mr McArdle) was the responsible LNP Minister and questions about what the LNP did in government should be addressed to the Member. 

"They did support a Commission of Audit recommendation that only the private sector, and not Sunwater, build dams." 

In parliament after Dr Lynham spoke, opposition leader Deb Frecklington said there were serious questions that needed to be addressed about the dam's construction, which is why she wanted an official inquiry.

There had been no transparency from the government regarding the structural issues of the dam, according to Ms Frecklington.

"It is astounding that a modern dam cannot last more than 13 years," she told parliament.

"No more cover-ups.

"The Bundaberg community deserves to know if this dam was designed and constructed properly.

"And they deserve to know what the government's plan is to fix this mess."

Ms Frecklington criticised the large amount of water that was being released, and said that water was never free.

"Growers were left shaking their heads because many crops aren't even in the ground at this time of year to make use of Labor's token promise of free water," the opposition leader said.