Trev Herse
AN OBSERVATION OF THE CONFLUENCE OF STATISTICAL ABERRATIONS, DAM RATIOS, TIMING AND UNCOMMON RAINFALL EVENTS THAT COMBINED TO HAVE OUR LEADERS DRAW INCORRECT CONCLUSIONS. THEIR INFLUENCE ON ACTIONS TAKEN.

Author : J. V. Hodgkinson F. C. A. Chartered Accountant : Aug 2006 to November 2013    

The principal thrust of this website is
FLOOD PROOFING BRISBANE from damaging floods to the point of extinction. MITIGATING flooding in Ipswich and Gympie. Putting REAL MEANING into "Drought proofing SEQ" and ensuring our water supplies by natural means well into the future

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

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REVIEWED DECEMBER 2011

WATER WOES RESULT FROM MISUNDERSTANDING AND BLUNDERS

I am 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.

I lived at Holland Park in Brisbane in 1974 so I was not “flood-bound” then. In fact at that time I was fully engaged in driving a taxi and did so throughout the flood period wherever and whenever it was possible to venture, often taking nursing staff and others to and from work as public transport was severely disrupted.  I saw the waters rise and fall in the areas open to me.  I saw the devastation later.  I spoke to many people.

I’ve 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 Northey Street Windsor , Stones Corner, Rocklea and other well known low Brisbane areas flooded often.  I’ve seen the old Pacific and Bruce Highways flood-affected and closed by floods many times.  I have endured strict water restrictions while they were in force on the Gold Coast from 2002 onwards.  I have lived there now for 30 years.

Over 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 mitigation.

Since 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.

The story

A 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. 

While a thousand litres, one kilolitre, of water costs 86c in New York , 90c in Vancouver , $1.17 in Hong Kong, and $1.89 in London , the same amount costs $2.86 presently on the Gold Coast. Cost increases have a long way to go yet according to statements attributed to the CEO of Allconnex, the water retailer set up by the Queensland State Government to control water supplies to three regional Councils including the Gold Coast.  Queenslanders have been getting their water too cheap for too long and should get ready to pay much more” CEO Kim Woods is reported as saying in early March 2011. 

The State Government has foreshadowed significant price increases for bulk water once they commence “recovering their costs of the Grid and associated works”.

Wolffdene Dam

The 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 :

I have further instructed the Water Resources Commission to instigate new studies into the water needs of south-eastern Queensland and to review all potential alternative sources including storages, ground water, waste water reuse, demand management and desalination.

This 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 Queensland .  This work could include surveys, geological investigations and foundation drilling as well as office and other engineering investigations.  Environmental and social impact studies of the various options will be closely examined.

The Water Resources Commission of my department is already carrying out a study of appropriate options for the future trunk main water distribution system in south-east Queensland .  I expect this review to be completed during the latter half of this year.  This work will enable the Government to make appropriate decisions on future water needs and on the best sources of supply to meet those needs.

The 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.

Adequate time is available to properly plan to meet those water needs.  The people of Brisbane and surrounding urban areas can be assured that the Goss Government has such planning well in hand.”   (end of quote)

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

Wivenhoe also overflowed  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.

We Three.

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 Mary River and instead expand the Borumba Dam as a reserve water storage facility.  Ron’s property was not subject to resumption.

Ron McMah, 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 the ecology

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.

Major blocking tool

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 Brisbane River and Moreton catchment.  In comparison, the environmental flow objectives for the Mary River catchment, including the proposed Traveston Dam, can be met.”

He continued  The Queensland Water Commission has recently considered the engineering logistics and hydrological and environmental issues associated with the inter-basin transfer proposal.  I am advised that this proposal risks not being able to supply water with sufficient certainly and would be relatively inefficient due to peak water pumping requirements and evaporation.  The Queensland Water Commission also considers that this proposal would be costly and has concluded that the proposal does not warrant further investigation.”

Note!  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 for the Mary River catchment, including that proposed Dam.”

Premier Anna Bligh’s dishonour 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 Mary River , could also be managed to reduce flooding in Gympie and further downstream.  500,000ML of it’s capacity is required to service the Gympie and surrounding areas.

Overstatement 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 Mary River which is not part of our proposal.

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 mitigation for Brisbane City , Ipswich and Gympie, in the foreseeable future.

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”.

With 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 residents.

At 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.

It is acknowledged that Mr. Rob Drury, then SEQWater operations manager for Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams, was quoted in the Courier Mail in February 2007 saying that “uncommon events of between 300 and 400 mm of intense rain over the whole catchment area of the dams over a few days were required to fill large dams.  You don’t fill them every year”. He named them “uncommon events” recognizing that they are not our normal summer “wet season” rains.  He was right.  He was not quoted in the papers in relation to any issue during the latest floods.

Rob 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. 

If the “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 the Brisbane water supply or flood mitigation significantly in the long term, as the most suitable project to pursue, and after enormous spending on it, lost totally.  They have shown no interest in the Borumba expansion proposal since that time to our knowledge.

From 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.

The 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?

We are 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 responsibly.

Who were\are the main players?

The 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;   

 

Former Premier Wayne Goss;
Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan (State Labor party Secretary\Campaign Manager at the time);
Former Prime Minister and current Federal Minister Kevin Rudd (then a senior bureaucrat in the office of then Premier Goss).  

 

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:

 

Former Premier Peter Beattie;
Deputy Premier and then Infrastructure Minister, now Premier Anna Bligh;
Current State Ministers Lucas, Robertson, Hinchliffe, and Reeves;
Several not well known senior water bureaucrats and advisors mentioned in the website;   It must be remembered that these people are servants of the Government who employs them and is responsible for policy decisions.

What should be done now?

Perhaps 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)

The 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 Brisbane , quite aside from the financial cost and personal anguish suffered by the residents of that City and the Insurance Industry. 

Flood damage in Ipswich and Gympie could also be lessened.  The cost to the ecology would be nil, because as it now stands water that is not required to meet the standards expected by the Government’s Technical Advisory Panel of Experts is flowing downstream from Wivenhoe for no apparent genuine reason or gain to residents.

The tragedies which occurred in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley this year, sadly,  could not have been prevented.  They were without precedent and beyond the reasonable control of man, although no doubt lessons will have been learned that may prevent so many tragedies and so much damage in the future there.

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 plants. 

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?

The Water 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. 

There is much argument about the worth of the Tugun desalination plant.  It provided needed high quality water to Brisbane after the floods when their water supply and treatment plants were flood affected, and it is there and connected to the Grid if and when required in future, albeit at significant cost.

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. 

Increasing future 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? 

The 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 SEQueensland.

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. 

The 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 Queensland , Allconnex,  with water retailing handed back to councils, non-performing assets written off, and a 40 year debt repayment plan for the billions spent by the present Government on water infrastructure.

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.

 

Trevor Herse.

December 2011.

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