Author : J. V. Hodgkinson F. C. A. Chartered
Accountant : Aug 2006 to November 2013
The principal thrust of this
This is my review based on official
statistics and documents. It is done in conjunction with Ron McMah, grazier
of Imbil and Trevor Herse, retired of the Gold Coast
REVIEWED DECEMBER 2011
WATER WOES RESULT FROM MISUNDERSTANDING AND BLUNDERS
not an engineer or hydrologist, nor do I hold any other academic degree. I’m
just a normal, average citizen, Queensland born, bred and domiciled, living and travelling
most of my 69+ years in South East Queensland between Gympie, Toowoomba, and the
Queensland-New South Wales border. I
have seen it very wet and quite dry. I
have never had my home flooded. Not
ever living beyond that area, I have not lived in places of harsh drought which
bedevils many Australians.
lived as a kid where local flooding was not uncommon around Beenleigh and
Nambour. I’ve seen the result of
flooding which affects “family” in Gympie, seen
the past six years I have been a student, along with John Hodgkinson, a friend
of 40 years, of the Beattie\Bligh “drought” from 2001 until the rains
returned, and with his persistence discovered with him the reason for the
shortage of water in our dams. We were looking for a suitable water storage
location to overcome the problem. Along the way we met up with Ron McMah of
Imbil who revealed to us the Borumba Dam, it’s potential for massive water
storage, and his vision for it and South East Queensland which he had offered to
Premier Beattie and his Government. Together
we refined Ron’s vision into a joint plan for “drought proofing” and flood
that time we three have been trying to have our plan for that potential
thoroughly independently investigated by the Government using competent
qualified people, to no avail, despite many approaches to the current Premier,
her Ministers and their advisors. Following
is a commentary on what we have found, been confronted with, and confounded by.
series of unrelated misunderstandings and mistakes by people in authority who
ought to have known better has culminated in inadequate planning, costly waste,
and a blow-out in water charges to residents of South East Queensland.
a thousand litres, one kilolitre, of water costs 86c in
State Government has foreshadowed significant price increases for bulk water
once they commence “recovering their costs of the Grid and associated
unfortunate situation we presently find ourselves in
here in South East Queensland can, I believe, be traced back to the late
1980s and the cancellation of the Wolffdene Dam.
That occurred after the Wivenhoe Dam was completed and filled to
overflowing in April 1988 and again in April 1989 by our main water source,
“uncommon rainfall events”, after an absence of five (5) years.
The Hydrologists involved in the planning for the Wolffdene Dam obviously
understood the true situation and dealt with facts, not politics, but they
didn’t get to call the shots.
On 1 March 1990 Minister Ed Casey delivered a Ministerial Statement to the Queensland Parliament relating to the scrapping of the Wolffdene Dam and the Labor Government’s plan for future water security for South East Queensland in which he said in part :
have further instructed the Water Resources Commission to instigate new studies
into the water needs of south-eastern
review will be comprehensive and wide ranging.
It will require further work to be done on investigation of some
potential storage sites in south-east
Water Resources Commission of my department is already carrying out a study of
appropriate options for the future trunk main water distribution system in
Brisbane and Area Water Board will then be instructed to proceed with detailed
planning and development of that adopted option.
On present indications, an additional source of supply is unlikely to be
required before the year 2010. However,
it is recognized that the actual timing will depend very much on future
population growth in the south-east urban corridors.
time is available to properly plan to meet those water needs.
The people of
It appears that the Goss Government assurance was more rhetoric than substance, as the planning fell well short of meeting the water requirements of SEQld residents. The normal summer rainfall failed to keep up with the demand of an expanding population but apparently went un-noticed or un-addressed. This eventually led to panic as water ran short after 2001 and massive spending on infrastructure which ought to have been in place with timely planning and budgeted expenditure post Wolffdene as promised. The water grid is worthwhile infrastructure, but cannot deliver water that is not available, thus the claim that it has “drought proofed SEQld” is not honest or true.
“Uncommon events” are our main water supply
in 1992, was almost filled in 1996, overflowed in 1999 and 2001
when heavy rain returned before “going walkabout” for quite a spell.
The next “event” was a ‘near miss’ in 2007 during the
Beattie\Bligh “drought” period, when the catchment at Wivenhoe did not
receive the rain which fell close-by, and Wivenhoe was not filled to overflow
again until 2010.
Premier Bligh was warned in a letter of January 2008 by John Hodgkinson, the Author of the website www.wivenhoesomersetrainfall.com , of the return and the likely effects of “uncommon events”, our main water provider for the 16 years prior to 2001, and that, while the Wivenhoe system may contain the first return “event”, there would be insufficient storage for a second event and most of it would be lost downstream.
In April 2009, three weeks before the May 2009 “uncommon event”, the then Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, Mr. S. Hinchliffe, was also warned in a letter from John Hodgkinson of the mathematical certainty of the return of “uncommon events” which would cause the dams to overflow. He was also reminded that historically (since 1841) there had been 11 “uncommon events” within 1 year of each other (April 1988 and April 1989 for example) and that there would be a tremendous loss of water over the spillways with full dams when they returned.
John Hodgkinson, Chartered Accountant, of
Brisbane, and myself, Trevor Herse, retired, of the Gold Coast, had been
researching the facts behind Premier Beattie’s “worst drought in 100
years” after 2001, and how flood waters from Wivenhoe, when they occurred,
might be “saved” in reserve for following dry periods.
Ron McMah, of Imbil, had put a
proposal to Premier Peter Beattie to abandon his plans for the strongly opposed
Traveston Crossing Dam on the
grazier, of Imbil and the Borumba Dam
We met with Ron McMah after learning of
his Borumba Dam proposal in early 2007 and, after visiting the Dam and
surrounding territory with him, joined forces in pursuing that part of his
proposal involving the expansion of Borumba Dam and transferring surplus water
when available and necessary between the Wivenhoe system and the enlarged
Borumba. Ron McMah had made a
submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Traveston, and we submitted our joint
proposal to the subsequent EIS investigation
of the Traveston Dam project by the Queensland Co-ordinator General.
We also lodged a submission
with the 2011 Floods Inquiry.
Meeting with now
Minister Hinchliffe and the effect of “skewing” of the allocation to
On 15th July 2009 Mr. Hinchliffe forwarded a lengthy letter to Ron McMah, as a result of a meeting with him (then a Parliamentary Secretary) in January of that year. John Hodgkinson, myself and water bureaucrats also attended that meeting. On 6th August 2009 Minister S. Robertson forwarded a similar letter to John Hodgkinson.
Those letters went to a lot of effort to outline what could NOT be done, acknowledged the flood risk about which they had been warned, and strongly defended the need for the environmental flow requirement of 66% which determined no water was then available from Wivenhoe for transfer elsewhere for storage. Both recipients were told the Government was therefore not in a position to further investigate the proposal and requested any further correspondence be directed to a senior nominated person in the Queensland Water Commission.
The letters included advice that “mean
annual flow” percentages had been derived in consultation with a technical
advisory panel, comprised of independent ecological and other experts, for each
Water Resource Plan. However, they did
not point out that the experts warned they should be aware that the
inclusion of years of high flow (flood) in the calculations would skew the
results achieved, nor that they had disregarded or ignored that advice in the
drafting and the carriage of the legislation and also when calculating the
volume determined as 66% for the Wivenhoe environmental flow.
It was subsequently established that, when
this “skewing” data was allowed into the equation for the Wivenhoe/Somerset
waters for the period 1 July 1889 to
30 June 2000, the designated
“simulation period”, the calculated result when compared with that from a
similar period, 1 July 1894 to 30
June 2006 (the year of the drafting of the Plan legislation passed in 2007), but
excluding the flood year 1974, is actually equal to 78% of that period.
This occurs because that period starts after the 1893 floods and
excludes the high flow (flood) waters year 1974, heeding the warning by
the expert Advisory Panel. The 1898
flood remains included in that period as inadequate detail is available in
relation to it.
An average person thinking about it could probably conclude that to make the calculation in this way, i.e. excluding major flood years, would be fair and reasonable. Both time spans used exceed the 100 year periods we are accustomed to hearing about when dealing with weather matters, i.e. one in fifty; one in a hundred, and so on. But the legislation happened to be framed otherwise.
The “unavailable water” thus diverted to the ecology (160,000ML) and “disguised” as part of the acceptable 66% environmental flow, left no water available for transfer or allocation. This was the point used as the major blocking tool by the Government to specifically disallow engineering investigation of the Borumba expansion proposal for drought and flood mitigation purposes as we propose. The relevant pages of the Hinchliffe letter are displayed on the website under the “Additional Reading” tab.
Premier Bligh’s response.
Around one year previously, on 15 August
2008, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier of Queensland, Phil Reeves MP
(now Minister), wrote to me in response to a letter I had earlier forwarded to
Premier Bligh. In that letter he
wrote “The 12 September 2007 Gilbert & Associates Pty Ltd Report did not
include an analysis of an inter-basin transfer scheme from Wivenhoe to Borumba
Dam due to limitations imposed by the Water Resource (Moreton) Plan 2006.
These limits are expressed as ‘environmental flow objective’ and are
important because their achievement is key to
achieving the sustainable management of the
The Queensland Water Commission was responsible for “driving” the
Government’s Traveston Dam project at that time.
They were certainly not independent of the Government.
Mr. Reeves also seemed unaware of the TAP’s warning on the potential
for “skewing” of calculations and the result thereof, as he draws attention
to the claim no water is available from Wivenhoe, contrasting it with
their favored Traveston Dam meeting the “environmental flow objectives
of her obligation to the people in Gympie
I do not understand the second part of his reply printed above relating to “peak pumping requirements and evaporation”, but the content of the letter confirms that there was then no intention by Premier Bligh (then Infrastructure Minister) to honour her promise to the citizens of Gympie to whom she had, in 2006, given an “iron clad guarantee” that she would investigate it “and if it stacked up she would do it”.
Perhaps if the proposal had, at the time the promise was made, been independently investigated as promised by Ms. Bligh, the flaw in the draft legislation, if not intended, would have been discovered. Then the required water would have been identified to make the water transfers proposition viable and the independent investigation promised could have been undertaken.
Water transfers, once the Borumba was
expanded and progressively filled, would be made infrequently, but, with an
expanded Borumba Dam in place with a capacity of 2,000,000ML, for about the
price of a desalination plant the size of the Tugun unit, we would have a
permanent large back-up reserve for times of shortage in the Wivenhoe catchment
areas. As well, the
Wivenhoe could be more flexibly managed for flood mitigation purposes to very
substantially reduce or eliminate future flooding effects in Brisbane, including
floods up to the severity of the 1974 and 2011 events.
The Borumba, which provides 34% of the
water in the
by mathematical means of the allocation to the Ecology
Until early in 2010, we had been unable to verify the validity of the volume stated by the Government of “available water” in the Wivenhoe system without access to the pre-development flows (no people, no dams) information. We had been seeking this information for some time but it was not supplied until after a meeting with water bureaucrats in February of that year at DERM’s Indooroopilly Offices.
At that meeting the matter of the 66% calculation was amongst items discussed. We were told that “they were not completely happy with the 66% figure, but they had managed to ‘tweek’ the outcome”. We presumed that must have been authorized. But it was as a result of those discussions that upon receipt of the pre-development flow details the “skewed” nature of the calculated volume was detected and revealed by John Hodgkinson when he studied that detailed information.
It seemed to us quite incredible, almost unbelievable really, that Government people responsible for drafting and sponsoring the relevant proposed legislation for adoption by the Parliament, and those acting under the approved legislation, were apparently unaware of the expert Advisory Panel’s warning on the inclusion of high flow data in calculations and the “skewing” it can cause, or had ignored or disregarded it.
Governments are not required to follow
the advice of their consultants or advisory committees, however when failing to
do so produces such costly results (three desalination plants to produce the
water already there for free, or the proposed Borumba alternative for much less
cost), surely the public is entitled to an explanation.
None has been forthcoming.
This ‘flaw’ clearly allowed a “skewed result” to be produced, thus needlessly diverting 160,000 megalitres per year to the environment, which equals three times the annual output of the Tugun Desalination Plant, and 78% per annum, not 66%, of the fair average flow which would have been achieved by using the period 1894 to 2006, minus 1974, which obviously respects the warning by the Governments expert Technical Advisory Panel Mr. Reeves mentioned in his letter to me of 15th August 2008.
It is worthy of mention here that in the
“old” SEQWater Annual Report of 2001 the yield for Wivenhoe\Somerset was
446,900ML, but DERM\Seqwater has reduced it to 286,000ML with this “66%
calculation”, that is, reduced it by 160,900ML.
That amount of additional “available water” should be sufficient to allow for the Borumba proposal to become a reality based on a report we are aware was already held by the Government, if they had the will to do so. But the Government was locked into the Traveston Dam proposal, with blinkered vision.
The timing of the
very costly Traveston Dam proposal demise
It has to be remembered that at that time a final determination had not been made by Federal Environment Minister Garrett as to whether the Traveston Dam would, in fact, be allowed to proceed. That decision from the Minister did not come until Remembrance Day, 11 November 2009, and resulted in the scrapping of the Traveston Dam project.
The Government’s current 2010 South East
Queensland Water Strategy, their “blueprint for maintaining water security for
South East Queensland (SEQ) into the future”, at page 97, has a section titled
“Mary Basin area” which includes an option to investigate “an upgrade to
Borumba Dam (Stage 3)” but adds “raising to around 350,000 ML capacity is
considered the upper limit of practical development, taking into account the
environmental flow requirements and the probability of filling the dam”.
It goes on to say “The QWC will not investigate further options to
raise Borumba Dam to make available 70 000 ML
per year at a similar level of reliability to Traveston Crossing Dam.
A 2007 consultancy report, undertaken as part of the Strategy
investigations, estimated that the capital cost of such a scheme was in the
order of $3 billion. The scheme
would also have high ongoing pumping costs.”
That report concentrated on “water harvesting” from the
It is reasonably clear that the
Government’s intentions for the Borumba Dam in the Strategy is for future
“local and surrounding area” benefit only.
The 2007 report quoted specifically did NOT investigate the raising of
the Borumba Dam and the provision of infrastructure to accommodate the transfer
of water either way between it and the Wivenhoe system.
A proposal to increase the Borumba Dam capacity to 350,000ML was part of the Government’s Traveston Crossing Dam plans, and involved the raising of the existing dam wall. Our proposal requires a complete new wall, a short distance downstream where the engineers GHD determined suitable rock structure exists to “anchor” such a structure. It is hoped that any development of the existing Borumba Dam wall does not interfere with the ability to later capitalize on these features and construct the wall we propose when it has been properly assessed and approved.
So despite the Borumba expansion proposal being placed before the Government in 2006 and pursued continuously by Ron McMah and ourselves since that time, and despite their objection to it on the grounds of environmental flow issues and us bringing to their attention the apparent flaw in the 66% calculation arrived at for Wivenhoe waters, there is apparently a steadfast refusal to review the proposal as it is not included in their current Water Strategy, their plan for the future.
So even subsequent to Federal Minister
Garrett’s decision which scuttled the Traveston Crossing Dam, the potential of
our proposal appears completely lost on those responsible for dealing with it,
those managing the Wivenhoe/Somerset system, the responsible Ministers, the
Premier and the Government as a whole, as it has not to our knowledge since
release of their 2010 Plan become part of their vision for the future.
Nor, unfortunately, have they offered up any alternative with the
potential to provide equivalent backup reserve water storage and flood
It seems that the potential of that Dam enlarged to 2,000,000ML, as an engineering report they hold says it can be, for use as a substantial permanent major reserve water supply to offset future water shortages and drought in South East Queensland is not recognized by them. Nor apparently is the potential to allow a whole new approach to flood mitigation to be implemented for waters rising upstream of both the Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams recognized by the Government and their advisors presently.
An available back-up of that size would allow the present Dam Operations procedures to altered so that, at appropriate times in advance of impending serious flooding of the type witnessed ahead of this year’s floods, the large majority of the water in the Dams could be released in sufficient time for most of their total capacities, both FSL and flood chambers, of 3,519,000ML to be available to hold back the anticipated flood waters from the Upper Brisbane and Stanley Rivers if warranted. The flooding rains should refill the Dams at the back of the flood, but in the unlikely event that the expected rains are not received an adequate back-up would be available from Borumba to replenish the supply. Seqwater reports that the 2011 floods contributed a total inflow volume to the Wivenhoe Dam of 2,650,000ML.
Chosen instead are three very costly (about $1.5 Billion each) desalination plants of Tugun size (proposed in their current water strategy) which will only achieve at great cost a similar output (45,000 x 3 ML) as the 160,000 megalitres per year which is needlessly diverted to the environment and which is fairly available from the existing Wivenhoe system for free. They would contribute nothing towards flood mitigation.
The result of recurring “uncommon events”.
high levels maintained in the dams during 2010 (target level for Wivenhoe Dam
was 100% Full Supply Level after flood events per Operation Manual
instructions), when we were again visited by large “uncommon events” early
this year, we saw the flooding in Brisbane that the Government was warned of
when the “events” return with dams “full”, causing enormous damage to
property and infrastructure, and personal anguish and financial cost to so many
best it could be said that those advising on and in charge of water policy
apparently failed to recognize and understand the rainfall history of South East
Queensland, and failed to appreciate and heed the warnings of the potential
serious danger approaching on the return of “uncommon events”.
History showed that large rainfall events would, in time, return. They
are our main source of water. The
average time between them is 3.7 years, and they have ranged from less than one
(1) year up to 11 years between visits since 1841. At worst it could be said
they were negligent by their actions and/or inaction.
acknowledged that Mr. Rob Drury, then SEQWater operations manager for Wivenhoe,
Drury was aware of the volumes required in the catchments over a short time
period to achieve the run-off necessary to fill the dams and that those
“events” did not occur regularly. We
had also drawn it to their attention. Why
this knowledge escaped the policy makers and those in charge, or was not acted
upon, beggars belief.
“water bureaucracy” and\or the relevant Ministers were aware as well,
as they should have been, they apparently never planned to take advantage
of this phenomenon for the benefit of SEQ residents, at least not before
Minister Garrett torpedoed their much preferred Traveston proposal.
They locked themselves into Traveston Dam, which would not have assisted
1992 it should have been obvious that our normal summer rains could not meet the
demands of our growing population, yet the Government, which claimed to be
monitoring population growth, allowed the problem to compound for far too long
and then had to make hasty and very costly decisions.
costs of those decisions are emerging now in our Water Accounts as Authorities
seek to recover the financing and capital costs of the Water Grid and associated
Infrastructure outlays, and we are presently hearing that significant costs are
yet to be passed along to residents in the Grid area.
What are we doing?
seeking a further meeting with the Premier to discuss this matter, something we
have advised her office will require more than a few minutes of her time.
We made a submission to the
2011 Flood Inquiry. We are
endeavouring to make people aware of the potential of an expanded Borumba Dam
for drought and flood mitigation and the Government’s failure to address it
Who were\are the main players?
senior past and present Queensland politicians, their associates and senior
bureaucrats associated with the decisions referred to above, commencing with the
Wolffdene Dam cancellation, albeit it after an election campaign with that
proposal a plank of their Labor Party policy of the time include:
in respect of the Wolffdene Dam decision;
and in respect of the failure to conduct an independent
investigation of the Borumba Dam expansion proposal as a feasible and legitimate
drought and flood mitigation alternative:
What should be done now?
in the wake of the trauma and costs, personal and financial, arising from the
2011 floods, the misunderstandings, misplaced objections and unjustifiable bias
towards the ecology can be set to one side and the Borumba proposal now be
independently reviewed and evaluated in the hope that a repeat of those flood
issues might be avoided in future and a viable reserve water supply also be
created for the citizens of South East Queensland.
Then, to re-quote Ms. Bligh’s ‘iron clad guarantee’ to the citizens
of Gympie in 2006, “if it stacks up then
do it a.s.a.p.” (if no superior
option is uncovered in the process)
cost of the Borumba proposal is expected to be similar to the cost of one Tugun
sized desalination plant and the Government already plans three of them which
would not then be required. That
cost is certainly much less than the damage rectification of public
infrastructure as a result of the recent floods in
Flood damage in
The tragedies which
occurred in Toowoomba and the
South East Queensland
should have an additional reserve storage of water almost as large, or larger if
possible, as the Wivenhoe Dam itself. It
should have a hydro electric plant incorporated in it’s design. The
establishment and running costs would be much less than proposed desalination
Flood mitigation must
be seriously addressed to avoid repeats of 1974 and 2011.
The Borumba proposal offers enormous benefits
in that regard with a large reserve of water to replenish the Wivenhoe system
water able to be pre-released for flood mitigation purposes.
The money already spent?
Grid is an important and valuable asset, necessary for the flexibility to
move water as necessary to address requirements of the time, but the associated
cost burden of it could have been better spread and absorbed had it been
completed in a more timely manner with less
urgency under less pressing need. Different
priorities given earlier to alternative water supply sources could have made a
very significant, but still costly, difference.
is much argument about the worth of the Tugun desalination plant.
It provided needed high quality water to
But it is done, and
we know the story of how it happened. We
have to find the money to pay for it all. There
will likely be no free lunch. Perhaps
the costs can be amortized over an extended period
or grants provided to lessen the impact.
electricity charges associated with water pumping and other cost increases have
been foreshadowed and are also to be faced, but a radical approach to those
problems may find ways to redress some of the associated expenses, if there
is a will to do so.
The Government says
that, despite recent large increases, they are presently selling bulk water to
Local Authorities at a loss. I have heard no clear explanation for it, but
suspect the loss may well be associated with the financing costs they rushed
into when compulsorily acquiring existing infrastructure from Regional
Authorities and the cost of constructing the Water Grid.
Figures of $8 Billion and more have been mentioned in the Media,
including costs for new infrastructure works when there was a crisis with water
because of poor and\or lack of timely planning,
and equally poor decisions I believe. As I said at the outset, I believe it can
be traced back to the cancellation of the Wolffdene Dam for pure political
reasons over 20 years ago.
While considerable money has been spent in relation to the scuttled Traveston Dam which cannot be recovered, properties resumed to accommodate that Dam can be disposed of in due course even though there is little demand for them presently.
Are we getting value for money?
We residents must
apparently bear and repay the cost of the misunderstandings and blunders related
to water encountered along the way for a very long
time. Why is it so?
Is it because we can’t live without water so we are captives, from a
cost perspective, of those supposed to serve us?
late Hon. Ivan Gibbs is quoted as saying “You should never make politics out
of water. You do so only at great
risk for people’s future.” The
politics of Wolffdene Dam and
subsequent water issues has come at a very high cost to residents of
It is interesting to
note that users of many public facilities and services enjoy subsidized or free
use of them, for example the cost of train and bus travel is subsidised for all
users, yet SEQueensland water customers are apparently destined to pay in full
for their water infrastructure and consumption, and also deliver profits from
water to their Local Authorities, to which they have become accustomed over a
long period. Ratepayers have not all been aware water was such a “profit
center” for them. They are now
saying it should not be so.
Gold Coast water
charges have increased from $0.60c per kilolitre to $2.68 per kilolitre in ten
years on my rates notice\Allconnex water bill.
As outlined earlier, the CEO is quoted saying it has been too cheap for
too long. Get used to paying more.
What arrogance! But
he is now gone, and the future of Allconnex is presently unclear.
Government has not finalized legislation to terminate Allconnex from July 1 next
year as proposed, which was to come at some considerable cost to Gold Coast
Ratepayers, and may not do so before the next election in 2012.
The Opposition, if elected to govern in 2012, proposes to have one bulk
water entity only in southeast
It is true that the
current State Government charges for bulk water have also increased substantially
which makes up much of the latest increases in water
costs, and they too will be increasing charges further to recover, over a 10 year period, the
money they spent . Did we get value
for that money? We cannot be sure
and cannot presently find out.
Finding more economic
ways to do community business is what residents are calling for, and if not
given serious consideration and results produced, the political fall-out may be
much greater than many “inside players” anticipate.
Are there too many layers of bureaucracy?
Many believe that is the case. Are their services all necessary and
economic? The truth is yet to be
established. Time will tell, and that time may not be far off.