Rathdowney Dam

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)

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  1. It is irresponsible to link the construction of the Rathdowney Dam with the referendum in Toowoomba.

    When you are in Toowoomba next weekend on your walk along Ruthven Street with the Mayor, can I suggest that you also take the time to talk to Councillor Shelton and some of the State opposition MPs who might be able to let you know that this issue in Toowoomba is not as black and white as you think.

    You might then understand why so many people are objecting to the behaviour of the Toowoomba City Council and the outrageous waste of ratepayers’ funds as they try to force people to accept their proposal.

    My feeling is that you will be kept as far away as possible from people with an opposing view to the Mayor. So you will need to make an effort to speak to these people.

    Also have a read through Qld Hansard for the past few months and you may gain a better understanding.

  2. I can’t see why it is ‘irresponsible’ to link one proposal to obtain water with another one, but whatever. If recycling is rejected in Toowoomba, it will be much further in the future before it is implemented in South-East Qld, which makes dams much more likely.

    It is not the Toowoomba City Council which has forced people to have a referendum, it is the federal government. The Council can hardly be blamed for encouraging people to support it’s proposal,seeing they’ve been forced to have a referendum on it.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an unprecedented action by the federal government to require a referendum to be passed before they will provide funding for a project of this scale. It either meets their funding guidelines or it doesn’t – it’s pretty gutless for them to hide behind a referendum on this single project, while they’re happy to porkbarrel left, right and centre on plenty of other projects that have minimal accountability.

    I’ve had plenty of material from the people opposed to recycling. There are alternatives, but they will cost more, be less reliable and mostly produce less water. If you are concerned about “waste of ratepayers’ funds”, just wait until ratepayers have to pay the extra cost of some of the alternatives if recycling doesn’t get up.

  3. This story hadn’t penetrated my little bubble of work and study here in Sydney. This is a very helpful summary of the issues, Geoff’s objections included. Thanks.

  4. An Old Girfriend Of mine worked on this re circle water thing about twenty years ago.
    She was bright but at the time we all thought Dale had lost the plot.
    She was always writing letters and her rooms were plied to the ceilings with papers.

    On evening after a bBQ I sat down with her and read some of the material.

    Sure I had humoured he before by taking a passing glance at her project and said good work Dale but this time I really read some of her research.

    What everybody is missing regarding re used waste and what they are not telling the public is>
    As they allow the re circled poo to lay out across a padock in the sun its also zapped with radiation.

    I recall Dale challenging Daffeny mcDonald a counciler on the Gold coast about this ages ago.

    At first they denied it but Dale produced papers and they in the end addmitted well yes there was some other treatment added to purify etc .

    Dale also had all the facts and figures on illness and diseases that had sprung up overeas where this method was already used.
    It was pretty scarey stuff.
    She knew far more than the council and convinced me for life.

    About two years ago I heard a lady Profesor on the radio saying that she has people from all over the world arriving to see her in Australia about her water from sea water project.

    She said the Australian Government know very well she has a method of turning sea water into drinking water. A cheap method.

    I strongly suggest we say NO to recircled water and chase up some of these other people.
    I will do my bit by searching for Dale.

    Also Rathdowney doesnt even have the rain fall to carry a dam.

  5. I like most of yotr posts wendy because they are often left of field and make people think.

    Although i think this one has jsut a hint of a bloke I klnow with a stick shaped like a Y.

    We can all hope for what we liek but sinmple phyiscs can’t be overcome

  6. Andrew

    I am concerned about cost overruns. Acland Coal has NOT agreed as yet to take the RO waste stream. Their failure to take it and the need for an alternative at the end of the mine life anyway adds another $60 plus million to the project cost.

    And that’s just ONE possible cost overrun.

    Read the Council’s NWC application – it makes interesting reading.

    Were you aware that Toowoomba City Council refused to release it and it was necessary to use a FOI application to get it into the public arena? There’s transparency at a local government level for you.

  7. Andrew, why are continually pushing this recycling story when it is evident the broad electorate is very against such idea. It’s expensive, and people don’ like the idea of cooking with recycled urine etc. Is the left that far out of reach with the with people? Why don’t you set a recyling system in your home and tell how it goes after 5 years or so.
    It would be interesting if we were able to see your medical history over that period to see evidence that you didn’t contract any diseases that go with that sort of thing.

    Andrew, we aren’t Africa yet, where dysentry is a major killer. Please think more of us.

  8. PC person
    why do people try to turn everything into a ‘left’ vs ‘right’ issue? This not a left/right issue (unless you are one of those who see ‘right’ as meaning inherently reactionary, and ‘left as inherently more open-minded – I’m not one of those people, so even that alignment is meaningless and misleading as far as I’m concerned)

    Purifying and resuing waster water is much cheaper than desalinising and dam construction (particuarly once you add social and enviromental costs).

    Cost overruns are always a concern, but it is also an issue with the alternatives. If people are concerned about cost, they should vote yes in the referendum. as that will mean the federal government will contribute millions that otherwise will not be made available (even though they appear prepared to fund a similar approach for Goulburn without a referendum).

  9. Andrew, that is not correct. The Federal government has not ruled out funding an alternative. Gas water is obviously innovative enough for funding as an alternative as the Federal government is funding it for Dalby.

    Even if it was correct, why should Toowoomba residents vote Yes just because the Federal government has threatened to withhold some of their tax dollars because of its arbitrary “innovative” criteria. That doesn’t make sense. It’s not Canberra’s money – it’s the taxpayers’ money.

  10. Geoff

    I agree it is unreasonable to expect Toowoomba to have to hold a referendum to get money out of a federal government program when nobody else has to. The Council’s proposal either meets the funding criteria or it doesn’t, and should be funded accordingly.

    (I’m loathe to get too much into Qld parochialism, but it seems doubly unreasonable that there is no talk of Goulburn in NSW having to have a referendum before they receive funding for a similar recyling plant.)

    I’m all for more public input into key decisions and even more referendums – that’s why I support the concept of Citizens Initiated Referendum.

    However, to force this to a referendum before money is provided is unreasonable when it is not done for anywhere else – I would love to have seen some of the dodgy porkbarrelling grants under the some of the ther rural funding schemes put to a public ballot.

    As to whether the Feds might fund something else – well they might but they haven’t said they will.

    In any case, purifying and re-using water stands on its own merits in my view, which is why I believe all of South-East Qld should have it. If gas water stacks up economically as well, then use that as well to supplement.

    I don’t suggest that recylced water will meet all demands on it’s own for ever more (and neither does Toowoomba Council), but I do think it is a key part of any rational solution, which minimises the financial cost, environmnetal impact and social costs.

  11. Andrew

    Thanks for your comments.

    My view is a little different. Communities like Toowoomba, Dalby and Chinchilla can use gas water as their primary water source with recycled water used for non-potable use.

    We’ll see how the referendum goes at the end of the month.

    I agree that the referendum was the federal government dodging a political issue.


  12. Andrew asks:

    why do people try to turn everything into a ‘left’ vs ‘right’ issue?

    Because, Andrew, the left is a grouping that tthinks of people as the masses, generally like your party seems to more and more.

    He also says:

    Purifying and resuing waster water is much cheaper than desalinising and dam construction (particuarly once you add social and enviromental costs).

    Ok Andrew, lets do the sums. Let’s calculate these social and eniro costs. Tells us what they are and how you arrived at them.

  13. Ken

    Thanks for your thoughts. I cant blame you for thinking thats far fetched but I can only tell you that Dale dedicated her life to it almost in the end.

    I lost contact with her but not before we attended a meeting with her where she took the council on.

    Dale was not a person to get involved much with these issues so her dedication took us all by surprise.

    In lay terms for memory her biggest objection was that they were not telling the public what else was added to the process when the water was left lying there.

    At the time she was objecting to the one somwhere between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.[ Well before they stared work on the plant]

    They spead this stuff out across a feild. Its quite shallow, like a mini dam but not deep.
    Its left for a few months for memory so it can get the sun. I remember it must have lots of sun before its pumped through into the plant.

    BUT they add some chemical to it that they have not disclosed to the public which was Dales main complaint.

    I know she got letters from the council and others warning her not to spead this information.

    If I can ever remember they name of it I will post it.

    Ken all this was years ago so I dont remember the details but I know she copped heaps because she got information from overeas etc.

    By the way the story of the man with the Y bone is probably not a story you should dismiss.

    They are still our best source of finding water ken.

  14. Ken

    The other thing I remember was Dale taking on Daffeny McDonald [water gold coast city council] at this meeting regarding the fact it was being szapped with radiation as she termed it.
    I recall
    Dale mentioning something about this chemical [which turned out to be another simple form of radiation] and Daffeny denying it.

    They debated about the amount and the fact Daffeny said X rays were safe and it was less [or little less than having a few X rays each year. Then they arguged about X rays being safe or unsafe.

    My point is she was eventually, and I do mean eventually forced to admitt their was! some sort of radiation material added.

    Dale came away happy because she had been trying to expose that for years. I didnt have the heart to tell her that because her argument was so involved nobody could even follow it.

    However I guess If you think about a dirty swimming pool in the sun you know you have to add clorine into it.
    I guess if your looking to turn poo into water it would need to be darm strong.

    Dale then produced papers i beleive she got from overseas and some letter written from a Dr there saying he has advised against this method because of it.
    She listed all the diseases that broke out in the different ares and the different countries since its use.
    I recall it very well because it caused quite a stir at the meeting and at the time I held the contract for the after hours emergency srvices for water sewage etc and was worried Dale would cost me the contract as I originally went along with her because she asked me to keep her happy.

    Considering in the old days i used to also monitor their alarm system and listen to what they wee tipping in the water of the two way NOTHING would surprise me.

    It was not uncommon to get several new young ones in a few all not knowing what they were surposed to add.
    It used to be our morning enternaintment while we had a coffee.

    You got me thinking now so I will try to find Dale.

    If she is still alive she have a web site on recycled water I dare say knowing her dedication.

    So ken keep an open mind as I eventually did because when I first heard it I could not beleive they would try to hide it from the public either.

  15. The hard reality is we need a shitsight more dams and six lane motorways up here than hobby farmers, one dog towns and tree frogs, and we need to visualise Brisbane as a city with a future population in excess of 5 Million, and increase our standard of living accordingly, rather than propagate this quasi-religious half-flush mentality of always trying to keep our head just above water. It’s pitiful.

  16. Andrew says:
    “why do people try to turn everything into a ‘left’ vs ‘right’ issue? This not a left/right issue (unless you are one of those who see ‘right’ as meaning inherently reactionary, and ‘left as inherently more open-minded – I’m not one of those people, so even that alignment is meaningless and misleading as far as I’m concerned)”

    No that’s not right. you have it backwards. People see the left as anti-science and reactionary while most see the right as foward looking and reasonable.

    Atrtempting to have us cook with treated urine is a great example of that, andrew. You try cooking with it.

  17. well if you define the ‘right’ as being pro-science, then the ‘right’ would be supporting full recycling of waste water.

    As for “cooking with treated urine”, no one is suggesting anything of the sort. The term “treated urine” is an oxymoron as anyone but an “anti-science” (and thus by your definition a lefty) person would recognise. Once urine (and other waste water) is purified, it ceases to be urine at all, as the things that distinguish it as urine have been removed, and all that is left is what constitutes water.

    Calling rainwater ‘evaporated urine’ would be just as accurate.

    In regards to moderating comments, I put a large number of filter mechanisms in place a month or so back to deal with a tidal wave of spam. Apologies that this also means some small delays in many comments getting on to the site, but it has reduced the workload of deleting spam (and the occasional way off-topic comment) enormously.

    I am slowly loosening some of the filters, but there will still be a reasonable number of comments that get caught in moderation.

  18. Andrew Bartlett and p c person:
    Drinking water that has been somewhere unpleasant doesn’t worry me so long as it has been cleaned thoroughly …. but I do object to someone who drinks only absolutely pure water deciding, without my knowledge or permission, that an “acceptable level of risk” of impurities and contaminants in water is good enough for people like me.

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