Fears over dam delay amid safety risk
THE State Government is refusing to say when work will be done to strengthen the walls of the Burdekin Falls Dam despite assessments finding the current risks of its potential failure in a big storm event are unacceptable.
Instead, both the Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham and a spokesman for the dam's owner, Sunwater, say the project's schedule will be subject to the findings of a business case not expected to be completed until 2021.
Meanwhile, state LNP Member for Burdekin Dale Last said the safety of the community must come first.
He said "if the work was s needed, it should be started as soon as possible". Townsville engineer Dick Cerny, who has worked on dam management in Australia and Canada, has raised the issue, not just because of community safety but his belief that the potential of the Burdekin Falls Dam for water storage and hydro-electricity is being wasted.
The Burdekin Falls Dam Emergency Management Plan says a comprehensive risk assessment was finalised in 2012, concluding that the current individual and societal risks are unacceptable.
The assessment recommended a "full upgrade" to reduce the "inherent level of risk".
Sunwater says a proposed staged dam safety upgrade would involve:
Stage 1: Improve under-drain system and anchoring of the downstream end of the spillway and rock foundations; and.
Stage 2: Upgrade to Probable Maximum Precipitation Design Flood by raising all Saddle Dams 1.5m and install post-tensioned anchors in the Main Dam spillway.
According to the emergency management plan, the upgrade works are proposed to be completed during the period 2018-2030.
When asked about the risk of a failure, a spokesman for Sunwater said the dam had been assessed as being safe for levels well in excess of the highest observed flood levels but maintained the upgrade was a "high priority project".
"Sunwater's Dam Improvement Program is prioritised via robust risk assessments that take into consideration wear and tear, contemporary design standards, the latest hydrology, rainfall patterns and community needs," the spokesman said.
"The Burdekin Falls Dam project schedule will be subject to the findings of the business case being developed by (infrastructure agency) Building Queensland that is expected to be completed in early 2021."
Dr Lynham said the Government had allocated $14.53 million to the Burdekin Falls Dam improvement project, which was under way, and was also funding feasibility studies into raising the level of the walls.
"Dams are not 'set and forget', they require ongoing monitoring and upgrades. As such, Sunwater's ongoing safety program is a rolling program for all of Sunwater's 19 dams," Dr Lynham said.
"In contrast, how much did the LNP deliver for the Burdekin Falls Dam upgrade? Zero dollars and zero cents."
Mr Last said the Burdekin Falls Dam was critical infrastructure and that a 12-year time frame for its upgrade was not good enough.
"Obviously, there is planning to do and we need to be sure that we don't end up with another situation like the Paradise Dam where water is being wasted and the reasons are being covered up," Mr Last said.
Mr Last said "ideally" he would like to see the upgrade, the raising of the wall and an installation of hydro-electricity under way now.
"There is so much potential for the Burdekin Falls Dam to support industry, to help lower power prices and to play a part in new industries like hydrogen and, at the moment, that potential isn't being realised," Mr Last said.
Mr Cerny said the upgrade "has to be done" and that while the work was performed, gates should be added to boost its capacity and advantage should be taken of its potential for hydro.
"I think it's criminal that they have this huge resource and it's not being used," Mr Cerny said.
"It's a mistake to waste that power."