Dam changes needed: flood inquiry
The Bligh Government has vowed to take up all recommendations from the flood inquiry but warned some steps won’t be fully completed before the next wet season.
The $15 million commission of inquiry into the summer’s devastating floods today released its first report, calling for an overhaul of the Wivenhoe and North Pine dam manuals.
The 175 recommendations also include a call to temporarily reduce the Wivenhoe Dam level to 75 per cent of its normal capacity if the Bureau of Meteorology makes another strong warning about an extremely heavy wet season.
Flood peaks in Brisbane
The flooded Brisbane River spills into residential areas close to the CBD. Photo: REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
Key points: the inquiry's recommendations
The inquiry, headed by Court of Appeal judge Catherine Holmes, also called on Seqwater to better train dam engineers. This followed evidence that personnel in charge of Wivenhoe Dam had never had a training exercise in which the most serious water-release emergency level W4 was triggered.
The commission also found that Seqwater made a “technical” breach of the legal dam manual that guided water releases because one of the flood engineers was not registered with the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland during the last wet season.
However, it said there was no evidence the registration lapsing had any effect on the operation of the dams.
Premier Anna Bligh said she was not legally qualified to comment on whether flood victims could bring a class action against the government based on the technical breach of the flood manual.
She said the government would implement all recommendations involving the state government, including an interim review of the Wivenhoe Dam manual before the next wet season and a more significant overhaul in the long term.
“In relation to every single one of the recommendations that apply to the Queensland government, they will be fully implemented,” she said.
However, Ms Bligh said it was not yet clear how much all of the recommendations would cost and not all of the steps could be fully completed before the next wet season.
She would provide more detail in a formal response to Parliament later this month, she said.
Asked whether she believed Water Utilities Minister Stephen Robertson and Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts had been exonerated, Ms Bligh said everybody would do things differently with the benefit of hindsight.
“I’m not surprised that there are things we can do better,” she said.
“I saw out there all the time people just doing their absolute best, but every one of them is a human being.
“We would be foolish to think we would go through a disaster of that magnitude and not learn from it.”
State LNP leader Campbell Newman said the report painted a “concerning” picture of the interactions between Mr Robertson’s office, his department and Seqwater.
The former Brisbane lord mayor said he had raised concerns in October last year that the wet season could bring a 1974-style flood but the government failed to take adequate precautions.
“Had I been the premier at the time, we would have acted, we would have drawn the dam down,” Mr Newman said.
He acknowledged that his senior state LNP colleagues opposed drawing down the dam late last year.
“Yes they did, I acknowledge that. Clearly I don’t agree with them and I didn’t agree with them at the time,” he said.
“I did say I was concerned about the wet season, I sounded the warning.”
Mr Newman said the LNP would look at raising the Wivenhoe dam wall by eight metres.
The report was released just after 1pm – at the same moment Ms Bligh fronted the media to answer questions about the findings.
Ms Bligh denied there was anything wrong with this approach, saying the independent commission decided to release it at 1pm.
“I thought you’d want the first available opportunity [to ask questions],” Ms Bligh told reporters.
The report also called for better warning systems, potentially including sirens in flood-prone rural communities.
It called on emergency services to boost training and improve helicopter tasking procedures.
Councils were also urged to boost their preparedness.
The release of the first report, focused on action to be taken ahead of next summer’s wet season, followed 30 days of hearings in April and May.
Those hearings focused on concerns over weather forecasting, flood warnings, disaster management and emergency responses.
Wivenhoe Dam’s role in Brisbane’s January floods came under scrutiny at the inquiry, with critics arguing more water should have been released sooner to allow more space in the dam’s flood buffer.
In Ipswich, 7221 buildings were flooded, including 3000 homes. 1100 people stayed in evacuation centres with 3000 staying with friends or relatives.
In Brisbane, 14,221 properties were surrounded by floodwaters, with 1203 homes completely inundated. By January 15, there were still 5755 homes still partiarly covered by floodwaters and 175 homes still completely covered by floodwater.
Last week, the commission released a report from independent hydrological expert Mark Babister, who said Wivenhoe engineers achieved close to the best possible mitigation during the January floods.
This was despite 59 per cent of floodwaters in southeast Queensland coming from dam releases.
Mr Babister also found that earlier increases in releases from Wivenhoe Dam during January 9 and 10 could have reduced the eventual peak outflow and the resulting severity of flooding experienced downstream.
During the first week of hearings, engineers said they based their decisions on no further rain flowing into the dam as forecasts could be unreliable.
Wivenhoe Dam controllers said they delayed activating the highest emergency water release stage because they didn't want to “needlessly” inundate properties downstream, but then had to ramp up releases.
At one point, Justice Holmes suggested the dam manual was “a bit of a mess” because of the confusing ways in which it talked about factoring in runoff, rainfall and dam level.
The commission’s full report is due to be handed over early next year. Further hearings to be held in September and October will focus on insurance and land planning issues.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated there were a total of 104 recommendations, based on initial advice from Premier Anna Bligh. Of the 175 recommendations, 104 relate to state government agencies.
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