Rathdowney is a small town sitting right next to the place where a dam is planned to be built by the Queensland government. It is one of two dams Peter Beattie announced without warning back in April to create the appearance that he was acting decisively to ‘fix’ South-East Queensland’s water crisis. The other site is at Traveston, on the Mary River, not too far south of Gympie (which I wrote about on this posting). Rathdowney is south of Beaudesert on the Mt Lindesay Highway, which continues on to the mountain range marking the border between Queensland and northern New South Wales.
I visited the town on Saturday, flying in by helicopter so I could get a sense from the air what the overall impact of the dam would be. I met with some of the locals in a small hall that is part of a well put together area displaying some of the history of the region.
The town itself won’t be flooded, but many of the surrounding properties will be. However, there is a strong chance that instead of being on the Highway, it will end up in a cul-der-sac with no through traffic at all. This dam will not flood as big an area as the Traveston/Mary River one, but if anything it will cost even more in rebuilding roads and other infrastructure.
I had not realised just how much of the Mt Lindesay Highway will be flooded, along with the main connection road over to Boonah (and on up to Ipswich) – see map by clicking here. It was very obvious from the air that this will require a major amount of rebuilding. It is fairly hilly country going up towards the border range, and the current Highway basically runs along the valley floor that will be flooded. To rebuild it would require going right around the side of another hill and through a different valley. It seems inevitable that it would have to rejoin the existing Highway alignment well to the north of Rathdowney, thus cutting it off from any through traffic. All of the properties and houses to the south of the dam that remain, many of who currently identify with and use Rathdowney, will be cut off from the town.
In addition, a new road will need to be built across to Boonah. This road is used by much of the traffic which currently comes up the Mt Lindesay Highway from places in northern New South Wales such as Lismore and Tenterfield, including a lot of trucks, that then go across to Ipswich.
I also received a lot of information which suggests that the state government’s figures about the likely yield of a Rathdowney dam are very rubbery. There are a couple of other sites in the region that have been mooted as possible dam sites in the past, including one that would see hardly any landowners relocated. I don’t profess to be an expert on dam yields (although going by the recent downward revisions of the annual yields of many of the existing dams, I’m not sure the experts can be relied on either.) Still, the current plan to go with Rathdowney does seem strange, as it is a long way up into a catchment, rather than sites further downstream which would have more creeks and streams flowing into it.
I also visited a cattle property which was featured in a recent Courier-Mail article. Key parts of the property will be flooded, even though the federal government has provided $30,000 in National Heritage Trust funds to help protect some of the key ecological values of the place. I also saw the aerial photographic display of the property which the Queensland government put together to use at an environmental expo in Tokyo to showcase how well the state protected important environmental areas and to promote the benefits and workability of its plans to reduce treeclearing.
I’ve been looking at more and more material on water issues in recent times, and I still believe there are huge gains to be made in pursuing the full re-use of purified wastewater. This recycling option seems to terrify most governments and politicians, which makes next month’s referendum in Toowoomba on reusing water a critical one. If it fails, it will make politicians even more gun-shy about this essential option.
It is a pity that a few more politicians aren’t showing the same type of courageous leadership as Toowoomba Mayor Di Thorley is in promoting reuse of purified wastewater. As Malcolm Turnbull has said “there is no question that any water can be processed to a point of absolute purity, the technology’s there to do it.” It’s mainly the ‘yuck factor’ which is holding things back.
(Just in case you’re getting confused about all the different proposed dams, the one at Rathdowney is also known as the Tilley’s Bridge dam)