Lies, Dam Lies and Dams

If comments by Federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell in today’s papers are anything to go by, he will need some convincing to use his powers under the EPBC Act to stop the planned mega-dam on the Mary River. The Minister can also approve a project under conditions that could be portrayed as mitigating the impacts on relevant matters such as endangered species and world heritage values of the Great Sandy Strait which is downstream of the dam.

Court action by conservationists was successful in getting federal approval set-aside for the Nathan Dam on the Fitzroy River further north. While this in itself hasn’t stopped the project, it has required the federal Minister to assess all the flow-on consequences of the dam, rather than just the impacts in the immediate vicinity. (This dam is for irrigation, not drinking supply).

This precedent should at least ensure the federal Minister is pressured to require a full and comprehensive assessment of all relevant, consequential affects of building a dam on the Mary River or Logan River. The Minister will know that any attempt to cut corners will lead to court action by conservation groups and directly affected communities. It should be noted that prior to the EPBC Act, conservation groups could not take court action against govenrment failures to uphold the federal environment law, as they did not have standing – another reason why the abuse I copped from the Green Party for ensuring the Act passed in 1999 still rankles. Without it, a range of subsequent successful court actions on environment issues could never have occured.

However, that pales into comparison next to the irritation I feel about the insistent propaganda the state government is using to create a belief that dams in South-East Queensland are inevitable and that there is no alternative. For example, this media release quotes the Premier as saying “We need to build new water storages to meet the capacity needs of another 190,000 megalitres per annum.”

This sort of propaganda is also being backed up by some political analysts who are being given airtime by the mainstream media. For example, Dr Paul Reynolds was interviewed by ABC TV and said “this is just something that has to happen and it will happen.” He made the even more categorical statement that

“Everybody wants the dams but they don’t want them in their area. That’s tough because somebody will have to have the dams. They’ve got to go somewhere and there’s just no question that we desperately need to have the dams.”

I know Dr Reynolds has been in the Dept of Government at University of Queensland for decades and he can obviously lay claim to be expert about issues of governance. He can even plausibly claim to be a political analyst, but I’m not aware of any particular evidence that he is an expert in water policy.

According to Qld Conservation Council figures, we currently treat and discharge over 200 000 megalitres per annum. This could be fully purified and put back into the drinking supply. That is more than both of Mr Beattie’s new dams and the supply of recycled water is guaranteed – you don’t need to hope it rains in the right place in the right amount.

This statement from the Queensland Farmers Federation also uses the same figure of 200 000 megalitres of water coming out of Brisbane’s sewage treatment plants, and gives other suggestions for more water savings and efficiencies (some, but not all, of which the Qld government are starting to take up).

Some people may argue that dams are a better alternative to full recycling of wastewater, but to say that “there’s just no question that we desperately need to have the dams” is simply not correct.

It seems that politically it is easier to destroy the communities of a few thousand people, rather than just try to convince millions of people it is OK to reuse purified wastewater for drinking, even though this option is cheaper, more reliable, involves no uprooting of communities, no flooding of lands, and does not harm river systems.

ELSEWHERE Jennifer Marohasy writes about similar matters over on her blog.

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  1. I support the communities that will be displaced and whose livlihood is now compromised.

    Many of these families are pioneer families of the region.

    Their sense of injustice must be palpable considering their circumstances have been created by by the growing population of seachangers from other states whose arrival has displaced them.

    I am sure the state government has been pressured into this decision rather than lose votes and investors to south east Qld because of people’s unwillingness to change their water usage patterns.

  2. There seems to be substantial resistance to recycled water, if public comments/letters to editor and similar are anything to go by. Two other factors: will the drift north of population continue at the same rate; and what is the potential for agricultural/horticultural use of the water in both the two news dams, being in mind their principal purpose.

  3. Phil – it seems fair to assume the population growth in the South-East corner of Queensland will continue for some time yet. This is not to say that nothing could be done about this should governments and councils choose to, but the recent Regional Plan that was adopted assumes this (and to some extent encourages it).

    I’m not sure about the second part of your question. I know a lot of the land to be flooded by the two proposed dams is agricultural land. There is always the potential for water to be allocated from these dams for agriculture down the track if circumstances change, but I don’t believe this is proposed at the moment.

  4. Andrew I feel heartened to see you, as a politician elected by the community, voicing your (& the community’s) concerns about the dams planned for Queensland. Dams are a completely stupid idea, for social, ecomomic, and environmental reasons. I laugh at Beattie’s mantra of ‘smart state’ – he is proving to be a dumb premier who is ignoring the science in existance within his own government.
    Regarding your press release (13/07) I agree recycling is the way to go (along with other options). I would like to see greater scrutiny and political pressure on major industries (such as power stations) to use recycled water rather than drinking water for their operations.
    Believe me, I would drink recycled water for the rest of my life if it meant I could prevent dams for Queensland & Australia.

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