The Queensland government is under scrutiny for its decision to spend billions on replacing the unsafe 20-year-old Paradise Dam before completing a business case for the project. Built in 2005 near Bundaberg to support the agricultural industry, the dam was deemed at risk of collapse in 2019 due to engineering errors. Despite a joint commitment of $1.2 billion from state and federal governments to restore the dam to its original size, safety concerns led to lowering the dam wall, reducing its capacity to 42% of the original design.
On Thursday, Water Minister Glenn Butcher confirmed that experts had concluded the dam could not be repaired or reinforced, prompting the decision to build an entirely new dam. However, there is no set timeline, cost estimate, or business case for the new project, which will also require new environmental approvals.
Critics argue that committing to the project without knowing the cost, timeline, or technical details risks repeating past mistakes. Stuart Khan, the University of Sydney’s head of school of civil engineering, stressed the importance of assessing the project’s feasibility before making announcements. The lack of information raises concerns about potential cost overruns and the economic viability of the project.
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers CEO Bree Watson expressed dismay over the plan, mentioning that farmers were informed of a new dam wall being built about 70 meters downstream, taking seven to ten years to complete. The uncertainty around water allocations and the challenging times for an already struggling industry add to the concerns.
The state government-owned water provider, Sunwater, assured that the new dam would have the same height and capacity as the old one. Minister Butcher defended the decision, describing it as a “win for the Bundaberg region” and a “major benefit for agricultural producers.” He acknowledged that the replacement would exceed the initial budget but emphasized that the committed $1.2 billion was still available.
Opposition MP Deb Frecklington criticized Paradise Dam as one of the state’s biggest infrastructure failures and labeled it a disgrace. Sunwater’s CEO, Glenn Stockton, asserted that the dam is currently safe for the 60,000 people living downstream but stated that investing in rebuilding the dam was not a viable option due to its failure to meet contemporary standards.