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Submission to Senate Committee +

Government Response of 6/9/07 to CPDS Submission to Senate Committee +

22 May 2007

Ms Jeanette Radcliffe
Committee Secretary
Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee
Department of Senate

Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis

I should like to provide some suggestions related to the Standing Committee's inquiry into "Options for Additional Water Supplies in SE Queensland".

In brief my suggestions are that:

  • the current water supply crisis in SE Queensland has deeper causes than rapid population growth and current drought conditions. It appears to reflect profound structural defects in Queensland's water resources' management; 
  • Queensland's capabilities in this area (as for many others) have probably suffered as a result, over many decades, of: the 'curse' of rich natural resources; unworkable federal financial imbalances; political neglect of public administration; reform failure: and amateurish arrangements for growth management;
  • these defects have been revealed by the water crisis and the uncertain viability of, and public disquiet about, the State Government's proposed solutions;
  • neither the State Government nor the Senate Committee will currently be able to guarantee that a satisfactory water supply solution has been found; and
  • action to deal with the structural obstacles to effective government in Queensland is essential to solving this problem, and many others.

These 'background' suggestions are based on experience in, and study of, machinery of government as the writer has no special knowledge of water planning for SE Queensland.

They also draw on some published comment that has appeared about water supply issues, and an outline that the writer produced of the main issues raised in the Senate Committee's consultations in Gympie and Brisbane.

John Craig

Author's Background

Author's Background

The present writer, though having no involvement in water resource planning for SE Queensland (see CV):

  • is a civil engineer by initial training who has some familiarity with the technical issues involved in water supply and lived for 3 years in the Wivenhoe Dam construction village while working with the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation on an associated Power Station;
  • observed, and participated in, the reasonably successful process of public sector development that was attempted in Queensland through the Coordinator General's Department in the early 1970s;
  • was involved in development of Queensland's capital work's systems - at a time when the introduction of forward programming was viewed as progress;
  • formally studied the challenge of coordination in government planning with particular reference to infrastructure as the basis for a 1978 master's thesis;
  • has studied and documented problems that have existed and been created in public administration by poorly-advised attempts at 'reform', eg see Toward Good Government in Queensland (1995) and Decay of Australian Public Administration: A Diagnosis (2002).
High and Dry - Why?

High & Dry - Why?

A history of the emergence of a water supply crisis in SE Queensland was suggested in a 2006 article (Condon M., 'High & Dry', Courier Mail QWeekend, 15-16/7/06).

That article argued that the 18th century decision to locate a city in a region that lacked reliable water resources had been unwise. Too little notice was taken of the tough tough native vegetation and low aboriginal population in the region, or later of the absence of flow in Brisbane's River's above the tidal reaches in 1915.

It also suggested that the water supply problem has been exacerbated more recently by: disorganisation because of the diversity of organizations involved; political bickering; the Goss Government's decision in about 1990 to abandon Wolffdene Dam; and a subsequent lack of serious planning activity because it was assumed that Wivenhoe Dam would provide enough water.

Other writers have suggested that

  • a large city should never have been built on a narrow coastal plain on a very dry continent. Periods of high rainfall such as the 1970s, when Wivenhoe Dam was constructed, are rare. There is a real possibility the city will run out of water and need to be evacuated - a possibility the State Government is not admitting [1];
  • pre-1990 decisions (ie those made before the election of the Goss Government) were the source of current problems eg:

In recent years there have been periodic claims by observers about defects in Queensland's capacity to deal with water resources. For example:

  • a lack of appropriate leadership and skills (as well as problems in recruitment and retention and unhappy employees) was seen to characterise the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water [1];
  • private interests were seen to have dominated over public interests in water resource management [1], and too little concern was said to be paid to the environmental implication of water allocations [1];
  • the hydro-geology functions of the Geological Survey office (which might have explored the real possibility of underground water resources for the region) were shut down [1].

In 2007 state officials suggested to the Senate Committee that unusual drought conditions and rapid population growth were the primary cause of the water crisis.

However another observer has argued (apparently on the basis of official data) that this can not be so because:

  • though there has been a drought (ie a 25% fall in average rainfall in SE Queensland as a whole), rainfall in seasons that affect the region's catchments has not been significantly below long term averages; and
  • population growth has been steady and predictable.

The latter observer suggests that the problem was a collective amnesia about the fact that Wivenhoe Dam was only built to provide flood protection against very rare rainfall events (an unusual number of which occurred in the 1990s), and that it was never expected to provide the large reliable water supply that it was subsequently assumed to be able to ensure [1].

Further information: It can also be noted that in October 2007 the Bureau of Meteorology suggested that current water shortages (generally, not specifically in relation to SE Queensland) can be related to global warming, because even though the drought is not without precedent, the combination of this with higher temperatures that  increase evaporation (and thus make less water available) is unusual [1]

If "Murphy's Law" (which says that what can go wrong, will go wrong) applies, the ultimate consequence could be that SE Queensland effectively runs out of water (eg has a supply sufficient for only about 25% of demand) if: catchment rainfall remains minimal; algae blooms develop in major dams when water levels fall below 10% around the end of 2007 - ie before emergency alternative water sources have been established; and the additional water treatment then required is ineffective.

Paying the Price

Paying the Price of Ineffectual Public Administration

The mess that has apparently characterised planning for SE Queensland's water supplies needs to be considered in the context of structural constraints on the effectiveness of virtually all  state government organisations.

Specifically Queensland's capabilities have probably suffered as a cumulative result over many decades of:

  • the 'curse' of rich natural resources;
  • unworkable federal financial imbalances;
  • political neglect of public administration;
  • reform failure: and
  • amateurish arrangements for growth management.
The Resource 'Curse': Worldwide rich natural resources like those which Queensland possesses seem typically to reduce communities' perceived need for sophisticated political and business leadership - and their prospects for economic development.

Queensland's political system has traditionally relied heavily on economic advice (naturally somewhat self-interested) from investors seeking access to the state's resources, and on copying policies derived elsewhere in the Anglo-American world. The community has lacked independent institutions able to provide it with well-informed, practical and locally-relevant leadership and its elected representatives with raw material for policy debates (eg see Queensland's Weak Parliament, 1999). Elected governments thus often approach their task with very dubious policy assumptions.

The author's involvement in strategic policy R&D over many years has suggested that there is often a 10-15 year lag in responding to emerging opportunities and threats because of this policy leadership gap (see Superficial Accountability which also highlights associated weaknesses in the political system).

The gap in public policy leadership has apparently been increased in recent years by attempts to ensure that universities focus increasingly on commercial goals.

Unworkable Federal System: Federal fiscal imbalances have long undermined the ability of states to take responsibility for their nominal functions - because they have induced dependency.

An aside: This problem was escalated by the Whitlam Government's increases in special purpose federal funding, and has escalated again over the past decade.

In the mid 1970s, the present writer observed that influence within Queensland's administration shifted from those with technical skills (ie those able to deal with infrastructure) to central agencies responsible for financing and intergovernmental relations.

Overall government's emphasis shifted from 'doing the job' to lobbying for funding.

This effect seemed similar to the impact of tariff protection on the competence of manufacturers' management, and was probably a key contributor to the many infrastructure backlogs that have now belatedly gained public attention.

Political Neglect of Public Administration: In the late 1970s the Bjelke Peterson Government decided to re-focus central government efforts on expediting major resource investment projects, rather than on developing public administration machinery (which had been an emphasis since about 1970). This action broke down the framework of purposeful collaboration that had been developing. It also appeared to play a key role in the emergence of problems in state administration and the political corruption that were explored by the Fitzgerald Commission because in effect there was no one left to 'mind the store' (see The Lessons of History).

An aside: the focus on 'major projects' also contributed to the continuing unsatisfactory productivity performance of the state's economy - see Queensland's Economic Strategy];

Reform Failure: In the early 1990s the 'reformist' Goss Government (which was characterised by abuses of power and the creation of complex institutional arrangements) seriously reduced the professional competencies of the Public Service and created government machinery that was so politicised and centralised that it often lacked the ability to access the practical information that is vital to developing realistic (as compared with idealistic) policy proposals and implementing them successfully - see Toward Good Government in Queensland (1995).

"Greg McMahon, a consultant who was the chief flood expert in Queensland's local government department until the early 1990s, says attitudes to dam safety became compromised during the late 1980s when "political skulduggery" led to an effective lowering of standards. He explains that when Wivenhoe was first conceived in the 1970s, Australian design standards for large dams made of earth and rock required them to be able to contain the flood created by the largest possible rain event in the catchment, the "probable maximum precipitation". But soon after Wivenhoe was completed in 1984, meteorologists realised they had significantly underestimated the size of this epic deluge." [1]

Poor Growth Management: Amateurish machinery was then established to plan for SE Queensland's growth (eg see SEQ 2001 - A Plan for an Under-developed Economy - 1994; Growth Management in SE Queensland - 2003; SE Queensland Regional Plan and Infrastructure Plan - 2005).

Central strategic planning has been a feature of all attempts at growth management, and this involves separating the process of decision-making from those who have the detailed knowledge, experience and skills to make appropriate decisions - a problem that has long been recognised to be a fatal obstacle to centralised economic planning. It seems that the architects of public sector 'reform' in Queensland failed to note that the 1970s' experiments with central strategic planning in major corporations had largely been abandoned by the 1980s (see Strategy Development in Business and Government, 1997)

Of these, the loss of public sector skills and the creation of impractical government machinery under the Goss Government arguably remain the main source of the many dysfunctions and crises (eg in electricity networks and hospitals) that have beset Queensland in recent years  - see Queensland's Worst Government? (2005).

While it may be that the abandonment of the Wolffdene Dam option was a significant set-back for SE Queensland's water supply potential, impractical government machinery then prevented recovery from that set-back.

The situation has not subsequently improved probably because of bipartisan-supported politicisation of the Public Service combined with attempts to increase efficiency in service delivery by the application of business-like and quasi-market methods to what are often the fundamentally non-business-like functions of government - see Decay of Australian Public Administration: A Diagnosis (2002); and Review of National Competition Reforms: A Commentary (2004). 

For example, state public servants advised the Senate Committee that a lot of work had been done on what was required to establish a water market in SE Queensland. This has been based on the hypothesis that market failures exist only in the imagination of bureaucrats and that, given appropriate pricing and regulatory arrangements, private firms would have had no difficulties in ensuring adequate water supplies in SE Queensland. The result was that public officials were obliged to shift their focus (and skill base) even further away from actually understanding water supply requirements onto regulating how entrepreneurs might do so in the event that a way could be devised to create a satisfactory market.

A more detailed account of the unsatisfactory attempts that have been made to fix Queensland's infrastructure machinery is presented in Defects in Infrastructure Planning and Delivery in Queensland (2002).

An aside: It can be noted that in late 2007 the head of the National Water Commission head (Ken Matthews) argued that states should have planned for the current drought, and that problems reflect a failure of urban water authorities and state governments [1].

There are thus solid grounds for suggesting (as the 'High and Dry' article did) that rushed action to resolve the water crisis could well result in bad decisions.

Evaluating Water Supplies - How?

Evaluating Additional Water Supplies for SE Queensland

The Senate Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs is focusing on the development of additional water supplies in connection with proposals that have followed recent official recognition that water is a major problem for SE Queensland.

When this was recognised emergency measures were put in place to improve supplies (eg water restrictions, subsidies for water tanks, a water grid, and water recycling) and longer term proposals for new dams were developed (eg Traveston Dam).

The latter caused public disquiet which led to the Senate Committee inquiry, and this has revealed possible problems (particularly in relation to the Traveston proposal) such as:

  • uncertainty about Traveston Dam's technical and economic viability. For example:
  • several observers with varying degrees of technical qualifications questioned the practicality of a shallow dam in the middle of an alluvial plain [1, 2, 3, 4];
  • Traveston Dam was apparently selected as a preferred option on the basis of a desk-top study [1, 2, 3] which suggested that (a) it had the highest potential yield and reasonable water costs and (b) further investigations would be required to fill information gaps about it. Investigations of whether it could be constructed, then suggested that yields would be lower and costs higher than first assumed, but it was not compared in detail with other water options or subjected to a cost-benefit study;
  • it is not clear whether demand management or numerous smaller supply initiatives would be better than constructing the largest possible dam. Alternatives suggested include: weirs on Brisbane River; desalination [1, 2]; demand management; other smaller sites (some of which have been investigated and resumed); better use of existing dams; stormwater capture and reuse; recycling; residential / commercially installed water tanks [1, 2]; and coastal aquifers.
  • the losses associated with evaporation [1, 2, 3] / seepage [1, 2, 3] / siltation [1, 2] / aquatic weeds [1, 2] are uncertain - and thus available water supply yield, water cost and economic ranking are unclear;
  • its catchment may have similarities to Wivenhoe (ie involve large rare rainfall events which don't provide for a reliable water supply);
  • if post 2000 drought conditions prove to be the consequence of climate changes (either non-cyclical or cyclical with a period of decades) then pre-2000 rainfall experience will tell little about the Dam's potential;
  • environmental implications seem virtually unknown [1, 2];
  • claimed economic benefits are uncertain;
  • adequacy of water remaining for irrigators in the Mary Valley is not clear;
  • in 2009 a federal minister 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]

It has been noted that a smaller Dam on the Brisbane River (at Wivenhoe) required over six years investigation (see below), while for Traveston the project was identified from a six week desk-top study (see above) and the then state premier stated that the government was committed to the project whether or not it was feasible (see Saving Brand Labor from Traveston Dam?)

  • poor consultation and communication with communities affected by proposals [1, 2, 3, 4].
  • fears by some that proposals might reflect a political 'conspiracy' [1, 2];
  • the messy relationship between Queensland Water Infrastructure Pty Ltd (a government owned company established in 2006 to undertake various water projects) and the state government. Its pseudo-commercial corporate structure reduces its political accountability and arguably requires a more arms' length relationship with the Coordinator General's Office (acting for the government in evaluation QWI's  proposals) than seems to be the case;
  • the inclusion of Traveston Dam as an 'emergency' water measure, though it is of no short term benefit and is intended to improve the long term supply-demand balance. Some argue that it would have been appropriate to take longer to get base data before nominating a preferred long term supply option.

State officials disputed the validity of some of these concerns (eg those related to: the decision making process; the viability of alternative options; the process of consultation with affected communities; as well as evaporation and seepage losses).

However technical analyses or opinions from government agencies can't automatically be treated as authoritative, because of the institutional defects mentioned above and because the State Public Service can't be claimed to be a professionally competent body. Such competence has simply not been an essential consideration in making 'senior' appointments since the early 1990s.

However, given the defective institutional arrangements for infrastructure that had been in place and other complexities that have had to be surmounted, the State Government's performance in evaluating new supply options has not been as poor as some observers have suggested.

Complexities that have had to be dealt with include:

  • ongoing efforts to design a water 'market' for SE Queensland;
  • development of various water emergency measures (some of which have suffered high costs and construction delays - presumably because of other pressures on construction resources);
  • a perceived need to make quick decisions about long term supplies despite deficiencies in solid information about:
    • water supply options;
    • future per-capita water usage in SE Queensland;
  • serious consideration for the first time of water sources outside SE Queensland. While a Traveston dam option had apparently long been recognised, it had not been investigated in depth because there was no perceived need for large water storages in the Mary Valley, and a 1994 investigation had rejected it as a practical option various on technical grounds,
  • changes in techniques for evaluating water resources (eg stochastic and system analysis);
  • uncertainties about climate change [1, 2, 3]. If reduced rainfall is not a cyclical or seasonal phenomenon, then the yields from all existing water infrastructure may need to be downgraded. This introduces the many uncertainties involved in global debates about climate change.

The biggest problem seems to be that there may be no way for either the State Government or the Senate Committee to reach satisfactory conclusions about water supply options for SE Queensland, because:

  • the issues involved are complex (as noted above and as illustrated by the quantity of information the Senate Committee is being presented with). Decisions about water supplies can't be made in a rush (eg over 6 years was required to investigate Wivenhoe Dam before a commitment was made [1, 2];
  • there are large gaps in the information needed to make decisions - presumably because of many years of inaction;
  • while it would be unsafe to rely on the Queensland Public Service for technical analysis or opinion:
    • only persons with a very high level of professional competence and detailed knowledge are likely to be able to identify where professional deficiencies exist (see 1999 submission to Queensland's Criminal Justice System about the inability of non-experts to identify the semi-skilled occupants of 'senior' positions in a politicised public service); and
    • it is impossible to undertake analyses independently of the state Public Service because of the close relationship between state government activities and water supply planning.

Reliably better decisions are only likely to emerge after a thorough renewal of Queensland's governance machinery to address the causes of structural incompetence. What is needed might be along the lines suggested in Improving Public Sector Performance in Queensland (2005) and Restoring 'Faith in Politics' (2006).

Renewal could not be effective overnight, because it would, for example, require:

  • civil institutions able to provide real leadership to the Queensland community and provide serious inputs for debate by their political representatives; and
  • a Public Service led by persons having the 30 years of relevant experience and study needed to deal with the above complexities. Such persons are unlikely to be available until (say) 20 years after the community's political representatives lose their enthusiasm for stacking 'senior' positions with cronies and 'yes men' and trying to 'pass the buck' on public functions to the private sector.

While water supply decisions clearly need to be made in the very short term these will be fraught with risks, and unless such renewal is put into effect similar problems must continue to recur indefinitely.

Similar problems appear to be becoming a significant threat to the competence of government in Australia as a whole (eg see On Populism in 2007).

Outline of Consultations

Some issues raised in consultations by
Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport on
"Options for additional water supplies for south-east Queensland",
(Australia. Proof Committee Hansard)

Note: [number] refers to page numbers in .pdf draft

GYMPIE on 17/4/07

Landholders / Businesses affected by Traveston Dam Proposal

  • compensation for businesses (as compared with landowners) adversely affected by Traveston Dam proposal is of concern [8], as are social impacts on community [10];
  • farmers would not build a dam (as government is proposing to) in the middle of an alluvial flood plain [16];
  • state government claims about economic opportunities coming from dam are dubious [12];

Save the Mary River Group

  • low current flows in Mary river, and poor water quality, are concerns [18];
  • if those with currently inactive water allocations start trading on them, it will be impossible even before dam is built (according to government analyses) to meet environmental flow objectives for the Mary River. Dam would result in taking three times as much water from the river [18];.
  • the government relies on a preliminary GHD study as justification for the dam - yet the water yield and cost figures in that report bear no relationship to figures that have now been put forward for EPBC approval. With the new figures Traveston Dam is the most economically inappropriate of all available options [19];
  • there has been very poor public communication by Queensland Water Infrastructure PL [19]
  • dam proposals would involve taking 70 gigalitres at Stage 1, 110 GL at Stage 2, then 150 GL with Borumba Dam also. There would also be evaporation and seepage losses [20];
  • the dam's yield relies on taking the small flushing flows that come through every two years - and this will have an effect on the river downstream for 200 km to Great Sandy Strait. Environmental impact studies on this do not seem to be being done [21];
  • at Paradise Dam (under control of Queensland Water Infrastructure) there is concern about failures to meet imposed environmental standards  [22];
  • early estimates put seepage losses from dam at 0.3m to 3.0 m. If evaporation losses are 1.4m and dam averages 5m depth, the dam would be vulnerable [23];
  • the cost of the dam (Stage 1) is estimated as $1.7bn plus $900m for piping and the cost of relocating (about) 30km of roads. This would provide storage yielding only 150,000 ML - which would not be considered viable anywhere else. Original estimates for water from Traveston were $3,500 / ML but this has now increased by a factor of 7 to $24,500 / ML [27];
  • government is using seepage estimates of 300 mm / year in yield estimates (the general figure used in SEQ) - though no work has been done to confirm this at this site on an alluvial flood plain. There are 26 m of alluvium under the dam [27];
  • those in the community investigating dam proposal have found it very hard to get technical information from government [29];
  • problems are perceived in the interdependence between the state government's Coordinator General's office and the dam proponents - which means that they are assessing their own project. Submissions were made about what needed to be considered in EIS, and there is no way to determine whether this will be done, because terms of reference for studies are not to be released [34];

Local MLA

  • there have been problems in poor consultation with community. For a long time there were announcements about a weir on the Mary River - then within a period of 7 days this was changed into a major dam [36];
  • many are concerned about low land valuations being used for compensation. People feel they are being bullied [37];

Community Organizations

  • there are high levels of social / individual stress in community associated with proposal for a dam whose viability is not certain [41];
  • the state government's treatment of affected community is bad either because it is incompetent or spiteful. What is being done is a crime [45];

Mary River Mayors

  • Traveston Dam is not designed to solve current drought problem - merely to deal with long-term supply-demand balance in SEQ - yet it has been included in emergency legislation on drought response. There is a large range of demand and supply measures in place in parallel to deal with drought. [51] The latter will meet supply requirements til 2030. Demand management options are the cheapest. Drought in Wivenhoe region is worst on record, which is not true elsewhere. In future major droughts don't need single water source, but rather measures that can be quickly rolled out. The impact of climate change is uncertain - and spending $2.5m on rain-fed dam is very risky option. Traveston Dam (because it required long distance water transport) involves significant greenhouse gas emissions. [52]
  • the process being used to investigate Traveston Dam lacks transparency to a much greater level than encountered elsewhere. Adequacy of supply depends on level of restrictions community will accept - a question they have never been asked. [53]
  • in 1994 Department of Water Resources investigated and rejected Traveston Dam (when yield estimate was 296,000 ML annually and cost was $125m - because of: location on alluvial flood plain; high capital cost; inundating prime agricultural land; and displacing population. [54]
  • DPI threatened penalty on local council because it erected <1m addition to weir on Mary River - on the grounds that this would interfere with lungfish and cod [54]
  • State government has criticised alternative water supply proposals on the basis of: ignoring population growth; requiring knife-edge future water security; and future desalination plant on Bribie Island - in response to which it was argued that alternatives were developed on the basis of government's own figures, and that various options were canvassed [56]. Those data were used, but questioned on the basis that they may over-estimate water requirements because of (a) urban consolidation and (b) improved efficiency in water using devices [57]. Per capita water use estimates for Brisbane are high compared with other cities - and will be reduced after current drought end because of practices adopted during drought - leaving water consumption at about Level 2 restriction level [58]. Queensland is already doing a lot in implementing water saving measures in new developments [59]
  • given true cost of Traveston water, options such as indirect recycling and desalination become more feasible [61]
  • it makes no more sense to get water for Brisbane from Clarence [61]
  • some improvement in situation would come from slowing population growth, but most demand comes from existing customers [62]
  • using rainwater tanks is more attractive if built into initial development, rather than if retro-fitted as this is very costly [63]
  • evaporation from storages in this area is usually assumed to equal annual rainfall. No one knows the extent of seepage losses. If the dam is 5m deep, 1m is lost through evaporation, another meter through seepage and another metre through siltation over time, eventually project would fail [63]
  • QWI quotes dam average depth as 16m - but it is only 8m based on dividing volume by area, and most of the time it would not be full - hence 5 m figure [64]
  • there is doubt about the ability of Mary River to absorb environmental impacts of a big Dam. Supply security for existing irrigators is uncertain. Cost of water to Brisbane would be high [64]


  • it is most unusual to propose building dam on alluvial floodplain. Usually efforts are made to reduce evaporation / seepage. Proposed dam area is not pristine. It is subject to aquatic weed infestation.  [68]
  • current SEQ water consumption is 400,000 ML / annum. Unconstrained this could rise to 950,000 ML by 2050. Traveston Stage 1 could meet less than 10% of that, and even Stage 2 is not much better. ALP blocked construction of Wolffdene, then bought land in 4 other catchments - none of which have had dams built. GHD report on which Traveston proposal is based shows water cost as $4,600 per ML, while current figure is $22,700. Yield estimates for dam use rainfall from 1893 to 1997 - but there is no data for 2000-2007 during severe drought. Though Deputy Premier claims that the dam, if built years ago, would now be full an analysis based on river flows suggests it would be near empty.  [69] Situation in Brisbane River is very similar to Mary [70]
  • raising Borumba Dam has long been proposed [70];
  • when Wivenhoe Dam was built, 6.5 years of studies and consultations occurred before land was resumed. Traveston has been done the other way around. [70];
  • Wivenhoe Dam stored 3m ML on 32,000 hectares. Monduran Dam (like Traveston) holds 585,000 ML but covers only 5,000 hectares as compared with over 30,000 ha for Traveston. The latter is too shallow. Other dams have been built in big ravines which keep water cool, and reduce evaporation. A lot of silt comes down Mary River. An expert opinion was expressed some years ago that no dam could be designed on Traveston foundations - a situation that won't have changed much [70];
  • 85% of the land for Wolffdene Dam has been resumed [71];
  • it would be at least 2014 before Traveston could supply water, and construction will demand resources that are already heavily in demand [71];
  • exploratory drilling resulted in something being released  that killed cattle. There are a large number of arsenic cattle dips in the area [ 72];


  • there is concern about survival of lungfish if the dam proceeds [83];
  • there is also increased risk of aquatic weed infestations (which can harm the ecology) from construction of a dam [93];

Regional Environmental Groups

  • sodic, dispersive soils are common in Mary valley and pondage causes problems for downstream landholders while turbidity adversely affects downstream environment [96];
  • environmental impact studies of barrage on Mary River suggested that there should be no downstream environmental impact - but this was proved untrue [99];
  • several dams in Queensland have been badly affected by siltation - and no one knows about this for Mary River [101];
  • government is assuming that there is no downstream effect of dam because 85% of pre-dam flows would be maintained. But there is already little flow past barrage - and that which occurs is intermittent to suit requirements of irrigators - and this is not healthy for river [104];
  • proposals for raising the Mary River barrage were put forward by the state government some years ago - and it was found that the barrage is already at the hight that they proposed (ie it is higher than it is supposed to be) [108];
  • the state government is not worried about aquatic weeds in the river, because landholders are held to be responsible for removing them [108];

BRISBANE - 18 April 2007


  • dam site is not ideal. There is a need for an adequate catchment to fill it. In average year this would not occur. One year in 10 rain would be sufficient to fill and overflow. Dam-site should be in deep valley - but proposed site is in flat broad valley, so evaporation losses will be huge. Stage 1 average depth is 5m (and 8m in Stage 2). Wivenhoe has 11m - which is also not ideal. Dam site should be on stable rock and even latest site proposal is far from ideal. There should be low base permeability but site is in alluvial valley with alluvium over 30m deep in places [8]. Seepage losses could be 3.2m / annum - on top of 1.4m evaporation which will mean that most of storage is lost annually [9];
  • constructing small weirs on Brisbane river would make better use of rainfall in that catchment that now often goes out to sea [9];
  • seepage losses would fill aquifer - and it is unclear whether this water would then be available downstream [9];
  • resuming authority argues this site is third best available for evaporation [10] - and that it would be the third deepest dam in Queensland [11];
  • water hyacinth might take up 3m of water annually [12];
  • if potential losses are real, dam would be dry most of the time [12]
  • SEQ's population is projected to increase to 5m by 2050 (a factor of 2.5 increase) so need for other primary water sources appears certain - though others suggest that this is not so [14]
  • no one can say where seepage water from Mary river would end up - perhaps it could move into other catchments [15]
  • seepage studies for Wivenhoe Dam took 6.5 years [15]

Landowners Affected by Wyaralong Dam Proposal

  • information has not been made publicly available to justify proposed Wyaralong Dam [17] The proposal for it is based purely on belief it will have low political impact. No water has flowed down Teviot Brook - on which dam would be located- this year. The proposed yield would be 10,000 ML for $500m - though there are many other figures and would have even higher evaporation losses. There is a popular view that the yield could be 35,000ML and so provide a water supply quick-fix. However it would be 1.5 times more expensive water than from high-cost Traveston [18]';
  • better alternatives are available by (a) using some existing dams better (b) stormwater / rainwater capture and re-use in Beaudesert / Logan area (c) development of Glendower Dam which would have higher yield and lower cost [19];
  • Teviot Brook ran consistently in good rainfall periods (ie 1970s) but not currently [22];
  • there is a linkage between Wyaralong Dam and another on Logan River (at Cedar Grove), though state government stated that these were justified on a stand-alone basis. [24]
  • decisions are being made on the basis of GHD study though it was just a scoping study that was not suitable for this, and in fact itself indicated the need for significantly more work [25];
  • very little investigation was done before decisions were made [25]
  • there is a lack of official information about the yield expected to come from Wyaralong Dam - because it is regarded as part of a system - and a lack of information about how the decision favouring Wyaralong was made [28]


  • there is a problem with mega-projects worldwide - that financial costs are under-estimated, benefits are elevated and social / environmental costs are deflated. Governments have to do this to get projects through. Under-estimating social impacts is part of the problem [ 32];
  • there were poor decisions made well before the 1990s in developing real estate to bring a lot of people to SE Queensland [32];
  • there are deficiencies in the process the state government is using to cope with social impacts of Traveston [35];
  • all proposed economic benefits to region from Traveston Dam depend on other conditions being met [36];
  • many in the world are going to be water poor in future. Is the solution to pay full cost for it? But those who make money out of water supplies don't necessarily put this back into the utility - due to move away from service provision model [37];
  • decisions on location of both Traveston and Wyaralong Dams appeared to be influenced by the fact that they were in non-ALP-held electorates [37];
  • people are less willing to accept Dam decisions because they feel that they were largely determined by political considerations [38];
  • based on international practice for dealing with social / environmental / institutional / political costs of large dams 38 criteria were identified, on which state government passed on only 2 [39];
  • clear transparent and accountable processes have not been used in arriving at Traveston Dam proposal [41];
  • Queensland's lack of compliance with other national arrangements also needs to be considered [41];
  • environmental impacts of proposed Traveston Dam will be significant [42];
  • organisations making inputs in relation to environmental impacts lack the resources required to do so properly [49];
  • the Queensland Government often goes ahead with projects without undertaking an EIS [50];
  • increasing the height of other dams or buying everyone water tanks could be better options than Traveston [51]

Rural Organisations

  • there has not been an adequate cost/benefit analysis for Traveston Dam, or of water planning requirements for rural areas in SEQ [53];
  • there will be substantial adverse impacts on Gympie from dislocation of agriculture as a result of Traveston [69];
  • Water Commission recently completed a report into whole water grid - and this brought in Logan Valley and Mary Valley - which means that two large agricultural areas are now subservient to Brisbane's water needs. There is no evaluation of the impact of this - though it will significantly affect the risks of farming in those areas [71];
  • climate change has affected the already complicated business of hydrology - and GHD's history-based estimated of yields have been reduced in government's prudent yield estimates (though what this allows for is unclear) [72];
  • there should be a public testing of data used in making major decisions such as this [72];

State Opposition

  • the Opposition is concerned about the political process in reaching decision. Traveston was announced in April 2006 - and was a complete surprise because no one had heard of it or known it was being considered. Despite numerous studies of water supplies for SEQ - Traveston was only mentioned one with a one-line dismissal. [75] It was eventually revealed that decision resulted from desk-top study by GHD - which revealed many gaps in information about Traveston. The decision thus seems purely political - to be seen to be doing something in the face of water crisis. It was about building perceptions, not about supplying water [76];
  • the Opposition believes that diverse other water projects could be developed - that were already being planned [77];
  • a three-fold increase in water prices are likely in SEQ because projects that are being developed are being done in panic [78];
  • six months after decision was made it was obvious that there was no information about Traveston option - it had not been part of planning process [81];
  • there is a real prospect that Brisbane will run out of water [81];
  • if Traveston Dam will be able to provide water for Brisbane in 2014, there is every chance that other nearby catchments would also be full (ie Wivenhoe) [82];
  • the cost of Traveston (when road relocations etc) are taken into account will be closer to $3bn than $1.7bn), thus making water equivalent to the cost of desalinated water [82];
  • Traveston was included in emergency water regulations merely for political purposes - so that the Opposition would vote against those regulations [88];

State Public Servants

  • the state government has a diversity of plans in place to address water supply problems in SEQ, that result from a long drought and rapid population growth. Traveston Dam is only part of this. Site provides the largest yield and most secure potential supply in SEQ - because of its larger command of a relatively wet catchment. The site was selected through an appropriate process - and further studies have confirmed its appropriateness. A transparent EIS will be conducted  [92];
  • a considerable amount of work has been done on what would be required to establish a water market in SEQ [95];
  • there has been a large volume of interchange of information with the community - via meetings, phone calls and supply of documents with community [96];
  • the government is not aware of areas where requests for information have not been met [98];
  • government disagrees with Professor White's view that demand management savings could be 330,000 ML rather than the 210,000 ML that the government assumes. An expert assessment of this is available. White believes that 300 litres / person / day is excessive use, but actually demand studies have been done. Also Water Commission, as independent statutory authority, should not take overaggressive approach to demand management [99];
  • government believes commercial-in-confidence provisions in purchase agreements are to give land-holders confidence that government will not disclose their deals to others [101];
  • Cedar grove Weir and Wyaralong Dam will yield 21,000 ML / annum when operated as a system [104];
  • government views Traveston Stage 1, Borumba and Traveston Stage 2 as a system that should not be seen as separate components. Comparing this with Glendower, Amamomoor, Cambroon and Borumba in terms of cumulative inflows reveals Traveston to be a standout in its performance as a dam [106];
  • pan evaporation for Traveston is 1.4 m, but net evaporation (which also takes account of rainfall and seepage) would be 520 mm / year. This is comparable with other structures [107];
  • the 70,000 ML yield estimate takes account of this, as well as stream inflows [108];
  • documents community was concerned about obtaining were officially requested by the committee [109];
  • current techniques you determining yields involve 'level of service' (as compared with traditional historical no-value yield approach) and this takes account of climate variability [110];
  • government has done many things to minimize social impacts [112] ;
  • community is unhappy with the effect that this has had on them [112]
  • where cows died after drilling, tests were done only on whether soil brought up was poisonous  - not on what killed the cows [114];
  • government will soon make terms of reference for EIS available [115];
  • water supply options for Mary River had been considered for a long time. SE Queensland Regional Plan forced a focus on how to meet the needs of 1m extra people. Traveston site had long been recognised, but it now became necessary to consider integrated urban supply question. Traveston is largest site left in SEQ - and government decided to take a closer look. GHD report identified Traveston as No 1 in terms of yield and No 4 in terms of cost. In 1970s Gympie Council had done work on flood mitigation options on Mary. GHD study - which looked at 80 possible sites - and Traveston was no 1 in terms of yield - 2.5 times greater than the next best. At the same time the regions other storages were also being de-rated. In 2004 it was believed that available storages would yield 630, 000 ML / annum but this is now down at 450,000 ML. Thus bringing Traveston forward became important. [ 116];
  • traditionally water yield was calculated on the basis of historic no-failure yield basis. Now use same data with a stochastic analysis. Now however there is a need to move away from historical data and look towards the future - and beyond that to make allowance for climate change [117];
  • estimated cost for Dam Stage 1 is $1.7bn and includes relocation of associated infrastructure [117] which should yield 70,000 ML [119]
  • estimates for Borumba are $250m, and for Traveston 1 and 2 a total of $2-2.5bn. [119];
  • EIS will only consider Stage 1 - though what would happen in Stage 2 would also be relevant [120];
  • the GHD report had discussed a Traveston Dam that was considerably larger than the one that it is now proposed to build [122];
  • studies on losses through seepage have been done - and will be available as part of EIS - but is not available now for other engineers to check [123];
  • geological reports on the area are available - despite others' views that they were not [124]
  • Traveston was announced as preferred site (based on yields) subject to further investigation - and those investigations were not conducted on other sites [130];
  • how could anyone know the yield before investigations were done - because this depends on evaporation / seepage [130];
  • government took decision, and asked if project was capable of going forward to construction [131];
  • project was just plucked from the air - and tested. It was not actually compared against anything [131];
  • the determination was based on yield - no other option can provide what Traveston can [134];
  • other dams could be built yielding 119 ML - which is more than stage 1 for Traveston - but some of them are higher up in the catchment and would make it impossible to get expected yield from Traveston Stage 2 [136]
  • 12 folders of documents were submitted from government to committee - which the latter have not had time to read [140]

Government Response 6/9/07 to CPDS Submission to Senate Committee +

Letter emailed 6/9/07

Mr John Craig
Centre for Policy and Development Systems

Thank you for the copy of your email of 21 May 2007 addressed to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee concerning water supply issues in South east Queensland (SEQ).

Until 2004, it was anticipated that no new bulk water supply infrastructure would be needed for at least another 20 years. The South East Queensland Water Supply Strategy Stage 1 Report prepared for the Queensland Government and the Council of Mayors South East Queensland in August 2004 noted that:

"based on existing urban demand patterns, existing South East Queensland sources will be fully utilized by approximately 2025, based on the full use of the Wivenhoe / Somerset system for urban water supply purposes"

I note your view that structural defects in Queensland's resources management have led to the current water situation in SEQ rather than the rapid population growth and the current drought conditions. However, the current drought is the worst in the region's history and has affected dam yields in a way that was not predicted or contemplated by previously accepted engineering practices.

Successive wet seasons have failed to deliver sizable volumes of water to our major water storages with water flowing into the Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams between April 2006 and March 2007 less than 5% of the normal average. This has brought forward the need for new water supply infrastructure and has also meant that the Queensland Government has had to revise down the yields of existing water storages. These severe drought conditions coupled with booming population in SEQ, have highlighted the need to protect our sources of drinking water and find new sources of water. The Queensland Government is delivering an over $9bn infrastructure package to drought proof SEQ.

A detailed analysis of the drought can be found in the report The South East Queensland Drought of 2007 which can be found on the web-site of the Department of Natural Resources and Water at while information about recent water inflows into the region's dams can be found in the report Drought Water Quality Risk Assessment  available on the website of SEQWater at:

In SEQ, the bulk supply, treatment and transport asset are owned by 25 different operators, supplying water to 17 councils and three major power stations. The existing institutional arrangements for water supply in SEQ are fragmented and inconsistent because they lack a 'whole of region' approach. The Queensland Water Commission (the Commission) recently released its final report on urban water supply arrangements in SEQ to  the State Government proposing significant restructuring of the SEQ water industry. The Queensland Government has announced its intention to implement the majority of the Commission's recommendations. These arrangements will streamline the management of water delivery across SEQ.

A detailed analysis of water planning can be found in the report Water for South East Queensland - A Long Term Solution available from the website of the Queensland Water Commission at The Queensland Government also provided a comprehensive submission to the Senate inquiry in relation to the Traveston Crossing Dam which details the Queensland Government's planning in relation to water which can be found on the website of the Coordinator General at

If you require any further information regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact Mr Andrew Macey of the Queensland Water commission on telephone (07) 3247 4470 or via email:

Yours sincerely

Stuart Fyte
Principal Policy Advisor
Office of the Deputy Premier,
Treasurer and
Minister for Infrastructure 

Reply 1 of 7/9/07

Email dated 7/9/07

Hon Ms Anna Bligh, MLA,
Deputy Premier and Treasurer

More on: Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis

I refer to your Principal Policy Advisor's response of 5/9/07 to my email (Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis, 21/5/07) in which I had suggested to the Senate Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs that defective infrastructure management (rather than population growth and drought) is the main cause of SE Queensland's water supply problems.

Your advisor's response suggested (amongst other points) that:

"... the current drought is the worst in the region's history and has affected dam yields in a way that was not predicted or contemplated by previously accepted engineering practices. .........

A detailed analysis of the drought can be found in The South East Queensland Drought of 2007 which can be found on the web-site of the Department of Natural Resources and Water at "

Fragmented ownership and operation of water supply assets in SEQ had prevented a 'whole of region' approach - and this problem is to be remedied.

The State Government is committing $9bn to fixing the region's water supply system.

Unfortunately the report your advisor mentioned, The South East Queensland Drought of 2007, doesn't convincingly show that the current drought was unpredictable - and thus leaves open my contention that the water crisis is mainly a reflection of bad management. In particular, I note that the report:

  • stated that '... a drought occurring in the late 1890s and early 1900's ... showed similar duration and severity to the current drought' (p1);
  • presented data showing that the current drought was strictly the 'worst' only because the 1890s-1900s drought was slightly less severe (p1). [Comment: In other words, for all practical purposes events like the current drought should have been professionally predicted from the climatic record];
  • failed to present information about how many other occasions over the past century there have been long periods of low rainfall (perhaps similar to the current drought but also marginally less severe). [Comment: One of the sources on which my suggestions about structural incompetence were based had presented an apparently more revealing diagram - showing rainfall quantity by year. This certainly gave the impression of several multi-year droughts. Moreover there been an accepted engineering perception in the Queensland Public Service that Wivenhoe Dam was built mainly for flood mitigation purposes - critical knowledge that appeared to get lost during the Goss Government's 'reforms', so that it was subsequently assumed that that Dam could have a major water supply function];
  • the report drew attention to long term declines in average rainfall in East Australia - including SE Queensland. However (a) the consequences of this would have been predictable, and (b) declining averages do not necessarily have anything to do with whether there are long periods of low rainfall in major catchments.

That report from the Department of Natural Resources and Water seems like the Water for the Future document produced by Infrastructure Department, in that it gave a (deliberately?) misleading impression of the causes of the current water crisis. An inquiry I directed to the Director General of the Infrastructure Department about the latter document (see Understanding Water Supplies in SEQ,10/6/07) does not yet appear to have gained a response.

I note also that the problem areas I had mentioned in Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis included:

  • the general lack of strategic information in the Queensland community about important policy issues - because institutions to provide policy leadership tend to be weak or absent in regions that suffers the 'curse of rich resources';
  • unbalanced federal fiscal arrangements, that have made it almost impossible (especially since the 1970s) for states to properly deal with their nominal functions;
  • government's emphasis on large resource investment projects and neglect of public administration machinery in the 1980s;
  • politicisation / de-skilling of the Public Service and the impractical centralisation of control over policy due to the Goss Governments 'reforms' in the 1990s; and
  • amateurish and unworkable machinery for infrastructure development and growth management that have been created as a result.

Your advisor's response, which focused on the history of rainfall in the SE Queensland and the ownership of water assets, did not address the main institutional problems that have led to crises in water supply and other public functions (and will presumably contribute to more until they are remedied).


John Craig

Reply 2 of 7/9/07

Email dated 7/9/07

Hon Ms Anna Bligh, MLA,
Deputy Premier and Treasurer

Even More on: Structural Incompetence and SE Queensland's Water Crisis

I refer to my email earlier today concerning whether defective infrastructure management or unforeseeable drought (combined with rapid population growth) is mainly to blame for SE Queensland's water crisis.

I have reproduced below a copy of information that I received as feedback on my earlier email. This:

  • quoted even more apparent reasons to doubt that serious droughts in SE Queensland would have been unpredictable; and
  • advanced suggestions about the implications for water supply planning for the region.


John Craig

7 September 2007

Dear John Craig (Centre for Policy and Development Systems)

Thank you for your email dated 7th Sept 2007. I also have become aware of the alarming contradictions between the Queensland Public Service and the executive of the Queensland Government over the issue of risk and water management in South East Qld. The latest example to justify this conclusion can be seen in the risk management section of the South East QLD Drought to 2007 report (Qld Gov, 2007). This report states:

"Whether or not climate change results in an underlying drying or wetting trend into the future, there will, nonetheless, continue to be droughts of similar severity and length as those experienced recently and at the turn of the last century. Inevitably, even drier periods will occur as indicated by the past coral record." P.7

If this is the case there is absolutely no justification, from a risk perspective, for any large water storage to be built anywhere in South East Queensland. This is particularly the case for shallow dams that that will not efficiently store water for long periods of time.

There exists a significant real risk of future water scarcity resulting from the combination of 1) more significant changes to climate as indicated by the prediction of even drier periods than in the last 100 years and 2) the current and continuing paradigm of water management in South East Queensland that is over dependent in water storage and supply through river systems.

The looming tragedy in water management in South East Queensland is not just that the issue of water scarcity will continue into the future but that awareness of the gravity of climate change is quite high within the Queensland Public Service AND that this does not translate into a policy paradigm shift to minimise future water scarcity.

For example, through informal conversations with Queensland Public Service officials they have revealed knowledge of historical records that identify droughts far worse than all droughts on the modern meteorological record. They are aware that 6000 years ago when the sea level was 1m higher and Earths temperature was much hotter, the Burnett River did not have a major flow event for 70 years. This information was obtained through analysing past coral reef records.

With the reality of climate change, the risk of relying on river systems for water supply is very high and the Queensland Public Service is aware of this. The Queensland Governments selective use of information produced by the Queensland Public Service to justify ancient ways of solving water scarcity is an extremely high risk option for solving future water supply issues - a major paradigm shift is needed.

Rob Hales, Griffith University