QUEENSLAND by Luke McCormackNews Weekly
Qld farmers consider legal action over Callide Dam flooding
, March 14, 2015
Central Queensland farmers and residents, whose properties were flooded by water released from the Callide Dam during the February 20 onslaught of Cyclone Marcia, are considering taking legal action against the dam-owner, SunWater.
The Callide Dam in central Queensland
Almost 400 homes in Biloela, Jambin and Goovigen, as well as many nearby rural properties, were inundated in the wake of the cyclone.
Angry locals say that their pleas to SunWater to release water from the Callide Dam in the days before the cyclone hit Queensland went unheeded.
In the town of Biloela, a town 10 kilometres away from the dam, the Zischke family described how its property was swamped by a “tidal wave” of water released from the dam.
Said family patriarch Ken Zischke, 76: “What’s the good of putting … gates on the dam if you’re not going to use them? They’re there to protect people’s lives” (Courier-Mail, Brisbane, February 27, 2015).
Greg Lee, a Biloela businessman, has been sharply critical of SunWater’s management of the dam, and believes that much of the flooding could have been mitigated, if not prevented.
He told ABC television’s Landline program (March 1, 2015): “They (the dam’s operators) had time to let that water go. Why did they let it go at the 12th hour, you know? They’re supposed to be professional people, mate.”
Peter and Sue Wilkie, long-time residents of Jambin, a town 30 kilometres downstream from the dam, and owners of the town’s hotel, complained that nothing had been learned from the experience of similar releases of water that had flooded the Callide Valley two years ago.
“This time they should have let water go earlier,” Mrs Wilkie told the Brisbane Courier-Mail (February 26, 2015).
“Everybody knew it was coming. The weather bureau warned about if for days and they were spot on.”
Her husband Peter Wilkie added: “The dam was already 80 per cent full and they should have started letting water out two days before the cyclone hit” (Courier-Mail, February 27, 2015).
Callide Valley residents have also accused SunWater, a Brisbane-based corporation, of failing to warn locals, until the last minute, that the dam’s automatic gates would suddenly release vast quantities of water into the valley.
SunWater reportedly notified, via text message at 8:40pm, residents within 10km that the water release was imminent, forcing them to evacuate in darkness. Locals have complained that this gave them insufficient time to move their belongings to more elevated ground.
The Queensland government’s Emergency Services Minister, Jo-Ann Miller, has set up an inquiry to investigate central Queensland residents’ and farmers’ grievances that the automatic release of water from the Callide Dam, during the Cyclone Marcia, occurred too late and contributed to widespread flooding of properties.
The damage suffered by Queensland’s tropical rural industry in the wake of the cyclone has prompted farmers and horticulturalists to call upon the government to put in place safeguards for farmers’ livelihoods threatened by extreme-weather events.
Alex Livingstone, CEO of the Queensland horticultural industry body, Growcom, listed a number of measures the government could put in place.
He told ABC Landline reporter Pip Courtney that post-disaster recovery assistance could include making available to farmers low-interest loans, with a two-year moratorium on interest and repayments.
Mr Livingstone argued that it is vital that farmers can hold on to their staff during difficult times so that they can rebuild their operations.
He said that Growcom is currently compiling “the detailed information from all the producers that we can reach to say how many jobs that would be at risk if there were no wage assistance”.
He hopes that, armed with this information, the Queensland government can persuade the Commonwealth government “to come back with a suitable package that’s going to keep those people on the farm, earning money and supporting the local communities”.
Luke McCormack is Queensland state president of the National Civic Council.