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Traveston Dam: The Weirdness Continues (Email sent 14/9/09)

Daniel Hurst
Brisbane Times

Re: 'Put aside dam passion, Garrett told', BrisbaneTimes, 14/9/09

There is something weird about current calls for the $1.5bn Traveston Dam to be approved on environmental grounds by the Federal Minister for the Environment. The state government (according to your article) is suggesting that the dam be approved because it is, in fact, environmentally advantageous.

I made some attempt to follow debate about this Dam proposal in 2007 (see Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis ), and the most striking feature was the very real possibility that the Dam made no engineering sense (ie it may well not provide a reliable, economical water supply).

The Traveston Dam option was apparently selected on the basis of a desk-top study which did not consider its practical feasibility, and then immediately endorsed by the State Government without anything like to six years of feasibility studies that were required to assess the Wivenhoe dam site. Reasons for concern about the Traveston Dam's feasibility that were publicly expressed at that time by people who study such questions were that:

  • a shallow dam in the middle of an alluvial plain was always likely to be a bad choice;
  • water losses (due to evaporation, seepage, siltation and aquatic weeds) were uncertain, and could have a major adverse effect on the dam's yield;
  • the catchment seemed similar to that of Wivenhoe, ie subject to large rare rainfall events which can't provide the basis for reliable water supply.

It may be that expert engineering analysis has since shown that the Traveston Dam would, if fact, be a reliable and economical way of solving SE Queensland's future water supply challenges.

However, given the shambles that seems to characterise Queensland's system of public administration, it is also possible that the engineering viability of the project has still not been seriously considered, as publicly available information suggests that the Government's focus has been on land acquisition and environmental mitigation.

John Craig

Notes (added later)

The federal environment minister who subsequently  rejected the project suggested that the proposal was riddled with flaws and relied on questionable costings. Three reports raised doubts about: the research and accounting behind the proposal; the possibility of cheaper alternatives; a lack of transparency; and the use of a very low (4%) discount rate in evaluating the proposal [1]

The Traveston Dam is likely to become synonymous with government ineptitude and poor planning in Queensland. It was born in a time of panic and political desperation - because years of inertia by successive governments had left SEQ vulnerable to inevitable drought. Of elements of $9bn water infrastructure: the recycling system remains largely unused; the desalination plant was rushed and its quality compromised [1]