Today, the Queensland government announced that the controversial Mary River Dam will be confirmed next week. Water Minister Henry Palaszczuk says the project is going ahead despite claims that the dam will leak.
Water is a major issue for Queensland. The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted 60% less than average rainfalls this winter and the long-lasting drought has had severe impact on the contents of Brisbane’s dams. As of June 13, Level Three water restrictions have started in most south-east Queensland council areas. It means outdoor watering with hoses is now prohibited.
The problem is exacerbated by the Queensland population boom. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data for the September 2005 quarter, Queensland’s population grew at 1.9%, nearly double the 1% rate in the rest of Australia, and faster than any other State or Territory. Queensland is in the middle of the worst drought in over 100 years. The Government response is to build the Mary River Dam about 150km north of Brisbane.
Renegade Labor MP Cate Molloy has threatened to cross the floor and vote against the proposal. She is the local member for Noosa and is considering introducing a private member's bill to try to stop the Traveston Crossing dam. If she does, she will be automatically expelled from the ALP.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is unmoved. He said "The facts of life are, I spoke to Cate about it last week when Parliament was on. I'm happy to talk to her again, but no-one should misunderstand our determination, we have to do this. We have to do every aspect of this water plan or people will not have water.”
University of Queensland professor, David Williams, says more than one metre of water could be lost each year to evaporation at Traveston Crossing and up to three metres to seepage. “It could lose huge amounts of water through the base of the storage," he said. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg agrees with Williams and says the site has been twice been ruled out before. "They'll find that this dam is an absolute folly," he said.
Peter Beattie announced on Thursday, 27th April 2006 the Queensland Government proposal to build a mega-dam on the Mary River at Traveston Crossing. It will inundate the central Mary Valley in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland. It covers an area bigger than Sydney harbour. 900 landowners’ properties (roughly 76 square kms) would be resumed as part of the proposal and the Bruce Highway and railways which links Brisbane with tropical Queensland would need to be re-directed. The Greens believe the likely cost of the dam will be $300 million. However Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett believes the true cost will be over $1 billion when the cost of resuming the properties, roads and infrastructure is taken into account.
What irked the local communities most was that the decision was taken without any notice or consultation with the local community. Now the community is fighting back. A local group called “Save the Mary River Coordinating Group” was set up to resist the proposal. The Sunshine Coast Environmental Council (SCEC) have described the environmental and economic impact as “significant and unacceptable”. They say large scale water infrastructure will not only permanently affect the Mary River catchment but will degrade the fisheries of the nearby Great Sandy World Heritage Area which includes Fraser Island. According to “Eco”, the Sunshine Coast Eco news, three of southeast Queensland’s most endangered species and ecosystems are likely to be devastated by the Mary River mega-dam. These are three nationally listed animals – the Mary River Cod, the Queensland Lungfish and the Mary River Turtle. They also say that the resultant extremely shallow water level will create an ideal environment for huge numbers of pest species - blue-green algae, water hyacinth, salvinia, cabomba, cane toads, mosquitoes, rodents and carp.
The local Cooloola council is not averse to dam-building. However they see this super-dam as being counter-productive. Shire Mayor Mick Vernados said "There are a number of alternate dam locations at a much lesser cost than a huge mega dam and they're not going to disrupt and dislocate 1,500 people or more, they're not going to throw economies of this region into chaos and they're certainly not going to put at risk people's lives and livelihoods."
Those in favour point out the relief in metropolitan water shortages when the dam is built. Opponents say the dam fails to address underlying causes of metropolitan water shortages - environmentally unsustainable growth coupled with wastage and inefficient use of water.