Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington have been asked to clarify their policies on the future of Paradise Dam.
Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey said water security is one of the biggest issues of the 2020 State Election campaign.
In a letter to both party leaders, Mayor Dempsey said they should provide detail about their intentions if they form Government after the 31 October election.
“Paradise Dam was built to ensure the region’s water security and provide impetus for investment and growth,” he said.
“This vision has been realised with rapid development of horticulture in the Bundaberg Region including production of high-value avocado, macadamia and sweet potato crops.
“Council understands the dam wall had to be lowered for safety reasons but now seeks to reinstate the dam to its original full supply level.”
Mayor Dempsey said current and future investment decisions are being made on the basis of future water availability.
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers (BFVG) managing director Bree Grima said with uncertainty surrounding the future of Paradise Dam, investor confidence “has been severely reduced”.
“We’ve seen billions of dollars of investment put on hold in this region and that is because the plug was pulled on Paradise Dam last year,” Bree said.
“The flow-on impact with that is the 8000 jobs that are associated with agriculture in this region, so we’re extremely concerned if Paradise Dam is not returned to full supply level.
“And we need to ensure that the water in that dam is for the irrigators in the Bundaberg Irrigation Scheme.”
Bree said BFVG considered there was only one “full supply level” of Paradise Dam and that was at 300,000 megalitre capacity.
“Sunwater have recently changed the terminology around what is full-supply level,” she said.
“So they’ve actually reduced that down to what is the current dam wall height at the moment, about 170,000 megalitres.
“If you go on to the Sunwater website you’ll see that the dam is sitting at about 76 per cent. That looks great in their terms but we know that it’s actually really sitting at about that 38 per cent.”
She added that the majority of local growers are currently growing crops which will have higher water requirements as they get older.
“They need confidence to know that the investment they’ve made on those young trees, on setting up the blocks and supporting the local businesses in town to set up the irrigation, to employ the agronomists – they need the confidence to know they’ve got the water to sustain that crop to get it to full maturity.”
Council’s Executive Director Strategic Projects and Economic Development, Ben Artup, said assurances were needed that all nominal water allocations in the Bundaberg Water Supply Scheme will be maintained and not be transferred to other areas.
“Without this added assurance, it’s possible the dam wall could be replaced, but then our water is transferred to other Water Supply Schemes,” Mr Artup said.
It’s understood the dam’s full-supply level is being reduced from 300,000 Ml to 174,000 Ml with the wall being lowered.
Mr Artup said it’s not known how much the yield has been reduced.
“The yield is how much water is available to be sold and it was previously 174,000 Ml,” he said.
“We need Sunwater to disclose the revised figure, so we know how much water is available for our region for the next few years.”
Mr Artup said it’s important that Bundaberg Region primary producers complete a water demand survey that will inform the state’s decision over repair of the dam.
“We want to demonstrate there’s a rising need for water to drive investment in horticulture, trees and other crops,” he said.
Parties investigate other storage options
Outgoing Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham told the NewsMail this week the dam's yield will be restored depending on structural test results.
“We have said time and time again, the yield from Paradise Dam will be restored,” he said.
“Now our priority is obviously to get that yield from a restored Paradise Dam wall, that depends on testing results.
“If testing results come back negative, that yield will be restored from other new infrastructure.”
Burnett MP Stephen Bennett said to the NewsMail the LNP had committed to fixing Paradise Dam by working with international experts to stabilise the wall.
“An LNP government would also investigate and progress more upstream water storage options,” he said.
“The LNP will work with growers and farmers to explore which of these options should be progressed.
“The LNP will guarantee farmers water entitlements as well as the long-term water security and potential for the Burnett region.”
Mr Artup said the comments by Dr Lynham and Mr Bennett were encouraging, but guaranteeing the dam's yield for current irrigators didn't assure long-term water security for future investments in the Bundaberg Region.
The Council letter to party leaders calls on them to:
- Reinstate water that’s been lost from Paradise Dam due to the wall being lowered, restoring Paradise Dam to its original full-supply level;
- Rule out any amendments to the Burnett Basin Water Plan that allow transfers of water out of the Bundaberg Water Supply Scheme.