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Tens of thousands in damage after Wivenhoe Dam release

Fernvale residents Murray Jensen and Tom Wilkinson are angered by the recent dam releases. Photo Inga Williams / The Queensland Times
Fernvale residents Murray Jensen and Tom Wilkinson are angered by the recent dam releases. Photo Inga Williams / The Queensland Times Inga Williams

FARMERS and business owners are counting the cost of the recent Wivenhoe Dam releases, which flooded important infrastructure and washed away large sections of river bank.

Some are claiming tens of thousands of dollars in losses due to damage or disruption.

Although Seqwater argues the rapid draining down of Wivenhoe Dam was necessary to prepare for a possible follow-up flood, those affected by the Brisbane River torrent don't seem to be seeing it that way.

Irrigators like Murray Jensen and Tom Wilkinson say the release could have been slowed down considerably to reduce the impact on landholders downstream.

They are what you might call the collateral damage of the new Government policy on dam management.

A cluster of irrigators along the Brisbane River below Wivenhoe Dam are in prime position to bear the brunt of any water that is released from the storage during times of heavy rain.

Needless to say, they were devastated by the 2011 and 2013 floods, and on the first weekend of May, it happened again.

Not that last week's rain was anything like that which hit south-east Queensland four years ago, but Seqwater's new policy on maintaining the flood storage element of Wivenhoe Dam meant that a large amount of water was sent downstream from Friday through to Tuesday - leaving riverside property owners fuming.

Releases from Wivenhoe into the Brisbane River peaked at 1000 cumecs (cubic metres per second, or 86,400 mL per day) from May 2-3.

To put the volume of water into perspective, it takes a release of only about 177 cumecs to flood Colleges Crossing.

Irrigators claim that as a result, they needlessly lost thousands of dollars worth of pumps, infrastructure, and land.

Mid Brisbane River Irrigators member Tom Wilkinson said this was the fourth time dam releases had caused damage in as many years.

"By the time they let the water out of the dam, the rain was pretty much gone," Mr Wilkinson said.

"Surely they could have released the water at a much slower rate.

"Peter Dennis (Seqwater CEO) said himself that the majority of the flood storage of Wivenhoe was still available at the time the water was released."

It wasn't just farmers affected. Zanow Sand and Gravel CEO Darren Zanow estimates his company's losses from flooding to quarries at up to $40,000.

"Worst of all it's a needless, over-the-top discharge that has done it to us," Mr Zanow said.

Fernvale farmer Murray Jensen was only just able to salvage his $10,000 pump before it was flooded, but there was no saving the estimated two acres of his farmland that went crashing into the river as a result of the torrent.

Further upstream at Wivenhoe Pocket, grasstree grower Michael Brown estimated the damage bill at about $20,000, including two wrecked pumps and bank erosion.

While apologising to irrigators, Seqwater will not accept any responsibility for damage caused by flood releases.

An Seqwater spokeswoman said the strategy for Somerset and Wivenhoe was changed last year to reduce flooding in urban areas.

The dam manual states that the reason for reducing the levels back to 100% as soon as possible after heavy rain is because there is an 8-11% chance of a follow-up flood within seven days.

"It is important to empty the dam of floodwater after a flood has peaked so that the flood storage compartment remains available to manage inflows if another flood occurs," she said.

"Heavy rain systems can roll in very quickly, even when the forecast is for fine weather. We are required to comply with the Manual of Operational Procedures for Flood Mitigation at Wivenhoe Dam and Somerset Dam."

At the same time, the dam manual also states that the drain-down period may be stretched out - in order to reduce the flood impact downstream - if there is a favourable weather outlook.

Mr Zanow said the scales had clearly been tipped "too far the other way" since the controversy that followed the 2011 floods.

"I rang Seqwater on Saturday to ask what was going on," Mr Zanow said.

"They actually told me that they were releasing that much water so that people could get to work on Monday.

"I thought that was very strange.

"At the end of the day, a bit of common sense needs to come into the decision-making process."

Topics:  brisbane river, irrigators, seqwater, wivenhoe dam



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