Following months of drought and the recent passing of onerous Reef regulations, farmers in the Bundaberg region have been dealt another blow with the Queensland Government announcing this week that the Paradise Dam spillway will be lowered by 5 metres, permanently reducing the dam’s capacity. At a time when there is such uncertainty throughout the sector, the disappointing lack of information and consultation prior to this decision has only raised more questions than answers.
What we do know is that the dam was damaged during the 2011 and 2013 floods, Sunwater confirmed structural issues last month and is now fast tracking a process to manage the risk to the safety of the community. The dam will be lowered over a 10-week period to 42 per cent of capacity, down from its current 75 per cent. The water released will come from Sunwater’s own allocations and won’t interfere with local irrigators’ water supply. In a positive move, up to 80,000ML will be made available to irrigators at no cost. However, consultation on how irrigators can access this water is only occurring now, so they will struggle to maximise this opportunity and an extension appears unlikely despite a drought declaration and no rain forecast.
Despondency is breeding amongst farmers with serious questions about the decision to lower the dam wall, future water security and the price of water as the Queensland Competition Authority commenced its consultation on the draft report into water prices for 2020-24 this week too. One question that has been answered by government with the basis for its decision to lower Paradise Dam, is that dam safety costs are a community wide responsibility and they should not be borne by irrigators.
As the government pushes ahead with a big water reform agenda, there must be a concerted effort to plan and implement measures that help the irrigation sector to cope with the significant issues arising from constant water and energy reforms. These reforms continue to be implemented selectively without consideration of measures to promote the development of each of the irrigation areas in Queensland.