Richard Wilson, the Chairman of the Community Reference Group and Peter MacTaggart, the Sunwater Executive General Manager of Corporate Development.
Richard Wilson, the Chairman of the Community Reference Group and Peter MacTaggart, the Sunwater Executive General Manager of Corporate Development.

EXCLUSIVE: The long wait for Paradise Dam repairs

IT WILL be at least 2025 before the repair work to Paradise Dam is completed, with the water level to be maintained at 42 per cent during the project.

In the unlikely event of a weather event similar to the one-in-200-year event experienced in 2013, properties not previously impacted might be impacted.

Dam operator Sunwater has already updated its emergency response plan, which if triggered, would set off a series of alerts for the community, including text messages directly to downstream residents.

This was among the information shared with representatives at the first sitting of a new community reference group, facilitating the exchange of information between relevant communities, Sunwater and other stakeholders about all aspects of Paradise Dam.

Thirteen people have been chosen as representatives, with a representative for traditional owners still to be announced.

The group will be overseen by chairman and retired Australian Army Major General Richard Wilson, who is also chairman of the Queensland Reconstructive Authority, although the QRA itself is not involved with this group.

Speaking to the NewsMail yesterday, alongside a representative from Sunwater, Mr Wilson said if additional storage or systems needed to be implemented, those would also have to be factored into the Paradise Dam timeline.

"I feel like I need to say that a dam is an important piece of infrastructure that has significant implications for the economy of the surrounding area," he said.

"It's very expensive and it's very complicated.

"So, if there is a problem with it, it requires detailed examination to determine what that actually means and then what you can actually do about it."

He said the works being undertaken were in response to a public safety matter.

"All of this work around Paradise Dam has been triggered by basically an assessment that says that under normal weather conditions and forecast weather conditions, the situation is perfectly safe," Mr Wilson said.

"If, however, there was an event of the magnitude of the 2013 floods, then there would potentially be a problem.

"So, this is about public safety first and foremost and it's about Sunwater being proactive in taking steps to reduce the risk."

Mr Wilson said the water level of Paradise would need to be maintained at 42 per cent until improvements were completed, hopefully by 2025 all things going well, but the lowered capacity in the meantime would provide an additional buffer against unexpected bad weather events.

He said Sunwater had improved their emergency action plan and reduced the triggers leading up to a disaster, so in future triggers would be tripped much earlier and allow more time for evacuation.

"The aim of that would be by the middle of December, we're able to say that the community knows what's going on with Paradise Dam and they've had their say on Paradise Dam, that an independent review of the preparedness of the emergency plan has been conducted and it's been tested," Mr Wilson said.

He said the lowering of the spillway by five metres addressed the immediate public safety issue.

"That's the first step and that's the emergency action that must be done," he said.

"At that point, further work will be done, and tests conducted, to determine whether that's sufficient or whether there needs to be a further reduction."

Mr Wilson said a just as important, but less time critical issue was restoring water security to the region.

"People in the Burnett that depend on the water for the agriculture are concerned that lowering the Dam reduces the capacity of the water in the system, and that's acknowledged," he said.

"What we need to do as a second step is to look at options for recovering that water and restoring that capacity of the total system."

Mr Wilson said there would be three or four meetings with the reference group before Christmas, then again in February after Building Queensland completes some work.

"At that stage. depending on what the community concerns are, I think we should be in a position to say we've addressed the public safety concerns, and then we can focus on the longer-term issues around water security and what that might mean," he said.

Mr Wilson said the community should be alert, but not alarmed.

"They need to be aware of the situation with regard to Paradise Dam, and confident that Sunwater and council together will be looking at the preparedness and the plans and testing them prior to the onset of disaster season," he said.

The reference group members will be:

• Bundaberg Regional Council - chief executive officer Steve Johnston

• North Burnett Regional Council - mayor Rachel Chambers

• South Burnett Regional Council - council officer Allen Christensen

• Local Disaster Management Group Coordinator - Gavin Steele

• Irrigation Customer Reference Group - Peter Greensill

• Canegrowers Isis - Mark Mammino

• Bundaberg Regional Irrigators & Canegrowers Bundaberg - Dale Hollis

• Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers - Bree Grima

• Bundaberg Chamber of Commerce - Tim Sayre

• Wide Bay Burnett Environment Council - Mike Moller

• Community - Rowan Bond & Jim Mobbs

• Downstream residents - Linda Hite

• Traditional Owners - to be confirmed