3000 homes could have been saved, claims JCU researcher
The flooding of more than 3000 Townsville homes could have been prevented by an optimised operating system for Ross River Dam, saving the community from more than $1 billion in losses and the misery inflicted on its residents, new research has found.
But the Labor State Government and Townsville City Council deny the findings or that any changes are needed to prevent a repeat of the disaster.
Engineering students at James Cook University have produced an 80-report thesis: Multi-purpose operation of reservoirs for flood control and water supply with the Ross River Dam as a case study.
It finds rules-based systems used for dams like Ross River's are "dangerous under high-rainfall conditions" and should be replaced with "optimised systems" involving earlier discharges so later peak discharges can be minimised.
"The (optimised) model … used to simulate the 2019 Townsville floods … showed the discharge could have been decreased to 47.5 per cent of the maximum outflow that occurred, while controlling the storage to peak at 15 per cent lower than the current model," a thesis by degree student Matthew McLoughlin says.
"This is the difference between flooding 3299 properties … and the less than 105 flooded (affected) by the optimised model."
JCU senior lecturer Dr Bithin Datta told the Bulletin he assigned the thesis topic because he felt more rigorous and innovative operation of the dam could have reduced the flood's impact.
"Especially in terms of real-time operation, considering the fact that pretty good meteorological forecasts were available even before and after January 26, 27, 2019, it was possible to follow a different operation policy and reduce the severity of the floods," Dr Datta said.
"Although the results obtained are preliminary in this limited study, solution results do show it is very plausible the flood peaks and damages could have been reduced substantially."
A Townsville council spokesman said a review by the independent Inspector General of Emergency Management found the dam was operated appropriately and that actions taken during the event prevented more widespread flooding, while a Sunwater spokesman also quoted the I-GEM findings.
The State's Emergency Service Minister, Craig Crawford, said he was satisfied with the work of I-GEM and the recommendations made.
LNP spokesman for natural resources Dale Last said it should come as no surprise Labor's inquiry cleared the Government.
"It speaks volumes that after the floods the Townsville council took back operational control of the dam from Sunwater," Mr Last said.
"Townsville residents deserve the truth as to what really happened during the floods and a guarantee that it won't happen again."