Class action points finger at dam engineers

Wivenhoe Dam spillway in January, 2011
Wivenhoe Dam spillway in January, 2011 Rob Williams

THE class action incorporating 6000 individuals and business owners, who are claiming the State Government and Seqwater were negligent in operating Wivenhoe and Somerset dams during the 2011 floods, will resume in February.

The class action sat in the NSW Supreme Court for two weeks in December, before taking a break over the Christmas and New Year period.

In his opening Julian Sexton, QC, has told the court that by early January 2011, the ground in Queensland was already sodden and almost all the rain falling was running into dams rather than being absorbed into the earth.

"A monsoon wet season goes until March and it was a particularly strong one,'' Mr Sexton said.

"That they (dam engineers) did nothing between January 2 and January 7 was not reasonable.''

The plaintiff's case rests largely on the proposition that had water been released from dams well before the flood peak, some of the flood damage could have been avoided.

In response, counsel for Seqwater, Brian O'Donnell QC, defended the actions of flood engineers working on January 7 as the crisis developed. Mr O'Donnell said rain forecasts issued on that day predicted 10-25 millimetres to fall in both Wivenhoe and Somerset dam catchments on January 8, 25-50mm in Wivenhoe and 50-100mm in Somerset on the 9th, and 25-50mm in Wivenhoe and 50-100mm in Somerset on the 10th.

He told the court that, given the "PME forecast", the flood engineer on duty "had no expectation that Wivenhoe would reach 68.5 (metres height)".

Mr O'Donnell said the engineer also "did a model run" during his shift showing the expected level at Wivenhoe "would be less than 68.5".

In the days that followed, he said the actions of engineers working 12-hour shifts "in the heat of the event" also showed concern for forecasts.

Topics:  2011 floods class action law suit seqwater wivenhoe dam

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