‘COMPLETELY DEVASTATING’: Farmers foretold dire fate of dam
Marland Law principal Tom Marland is in the thick of the Paradise Dam debate and says farmers had warned there could be devastating flow-on effects from lowering the spillway and releasing water.
And if there's no major rain soon Mr Marland, whose legal team has been engaged by farmers in a class action against the Queensland State Government over the alleged mismanagement of Paradise Dam, fears the dam could be "effectively be empty" by winter.
Sunwater's forecast storage model suggests without significant rainfall, the water level could drop to about 8.32 per cent, 13,390ML, by July.
The forecast modelling is based on water allocation usage for the previous three years and historical inflow data.
"Farmers and the local community have been warning of this ever since September 2019 when 100,000ML was released to flow out to sea," Mr Marland said.
"Sunwater's own data shows that the dam will be completely empty by June this year without significant rainfall recharge.
"It's completely devastating for a community that fought so hard to have the dam built in the first place, have invested millions of dollars based on water security to now see the entire regional economy put at risk."
A Sunwater spokesperson said the company's actions regarding Paradise Dam have been about protecting both lives and livelihoods.
"The Essential Works are a short-term risk reduction measure aimed at improving safety of communities living downstream of the dam," the spokesperson said.
"As we progress the Essential Works, we continue to reduce the safety risk."
Sunwater maintains there is enough water within the Bundaberg Water Supply Scheme to meet allocations for the 2020-21 water year.
In addition to Paradise Dam, the scheme is supplied by Fred Haigh Dam, Ned Churchward Weir, Bucca Weir, Ben Anderson Barrage and Kolan Barrage.
If the dam dries up, Mr Marland suggested it was likely allocations in July would be less than 30 per cent in the next water year.
"Farmers simply won't have enough water to reliably plant, grow and finish a crop," he said.
"Tree crops like macadamias and avocados could die unless infield rain is received.
"Production numbers will plummet and so will jobs and investment in the region."
He said while water was available to be transferred from Fred Haige Dam (Monduran Dam) on the Kolan River, at 46 per cent or 250,000 ML and the additional pressure from the lack of water in Paradise would also place strain on that system.
Mr Marland said allocations were effectively cut off when the dam is down to 5 per cent or 15,000ML.
"There is 68,000 ML left in the dam so there is about 50,000ML remaining," he said.
"From 1 March, the dam will lose 1200 ML per day based on 3 year averages and be at 10% by mid April.
"The dam will be effectively empty by June."
The Sunwater spokesperson said allocations for the next water year will be announced in July 2021.
"Sunwater undertakes allocation forecasting in the 1-2 months before the start of the next water year," the spokesperson said.
"Forecasting ahead of this time is challenging as it is subject to many variables and unknowns such as inflows, weather conditions and customer usage."
Meanwhile, Mr Marland said the Paradise Dam class action was moving ahead and there had been a number of grower meetings this week.
"We have also engaged a national forensic accounting firm to assist in the assessment of loss and damages," he said.
"Our retained barristers in Brisbane are currently drafting pleadings and applications.
"We are also in discussions with a number of litigation funders who are interested in funding the case."