Could The QLD Floods Have Been Prevented?

QLD Premier Anna Bligh has been getting a lot of positive comments over the last few days for her leadership during the flood crisis. But the question needs to be asked – could she have done more to prevent it from happening in the first place? It’s not like Brisbane hasn’t suffered massive floods in the past (as we’ve all heard repeatedly over the last couple of weeks).

I’ve copped some flack on Twitter this morning for asking the question – I was called a “cock” and told to shove some cigars up my ass by some of the less erudite members – but I think the true test of leadership isn’t when you clean up after a disaster that costs lives and billions of dollars, but when you prevent the disaster from happening in the first place.

People are dead.

Homes are destroyed.

Businesses are destroyed.

QLD taxpayers are going to have to foot a massive clean-up bill in the billions of dollars.

Could the QLD floods have been prevented?

Obviously the government can’t control the weather (I think that’s coming in IOS4.3), but they are charged with policy regarding water management and building permits in flood zones.

I don’t know anything about water management, but I have some questions.

Did the Bligh Govt do a good enough job managing the amount of water in our dams over the last year?

Did the Bligh Govt do enough to prepare homes and businesses in the flood danger zones for the possibility of major flooding over this period?

Did the Bligh Govt have the right people on the job?

“Seqwater spokesman Mike Foster said yesterday if Wivenhoe’s flood gates were opened, there should be no fears about flooding in Brisbane, because even when full, the dam retained the capacity for an additional 1,450,000 megalitres (almost three Sydney Harbours) in flood storage.” – Courier Mail, March 8, 2010. I wonder what Mike Foster is doing this week?

“Premier Anna Bligh and water managers say there will be no easing of permanent water saving measures. “We can’t be complacent and we must treat water as a precious resource not to be wasted whether our dams are 50 or 100 per cent,” Ms Bligh said.”Courier Mail, March 8, 2010. In retrospect, would better planning have allowed us to keep less reserves in the dams in the lead up to summer, meaning we wouldn’t have had to release so much overflow?

“It is expected that during a flood similar in magnitude to that experienced in 1974, Wivenhoe’s flood mitigation factor will cut flood levels by about 2m.” – Journalist Brian Williams, Courier Mail, March 8, 2010. Nine months later, the actual peak of the Brisbane River scraped in just under the 1974 peak, surprising everyone, as the general consensus for the previous few days had been that it would EXCEED the 1974 peak.

As of October, the dams were all at full or near full – and we knew it was going to be a very wet summer (Courier Mail, “Major Wet Season Tipped For QLD”, October 1, 2010) – but the myth that, in the event of another 1974-scale flood, the Wivenhoe dam would cut 2m of the river levels was still being perpetuated. I wonder who came up with that prediction and what methodology they used? Was it a myth the government wanted to believe because it relieved them from having to do anything?

Lockyer Valley farm owner, Raleigh Davey, recalling the 1974 flood, said back in August 2010 “There is a cycle sequence through drought, flood and fires and even dust storms, it is part of the Australian scene. Should another cycle cross the Coral Sea and the Toowoomba Range gets eight or 10 inches of rain, the Lockyer Creek would get a major flood. If the country is sodden wet with the storm rains, there will be a backsurge on Tenthill Creek and the council workers will be sand bagging the library, you mark my words.” (Gatton Star, 31 August, 2010).

Maybe the Premier should have listened to Farmer Davey instead of Mike Foster?

Should we have built MORE dams? Bigger dams?

(Photo of Anna Bligh from her Flickr page.)

24 thoughts on “Could The QLD Floods Have Been Prevented?

  1. It was estimated that 2.5 million litres were entering the dam through the catchment, 1 million litres more than that of the 1974 floods. Without the dam, things would have been a lot worse.

  2. Even assuming that Wivenhoe was reduced to 50%, there potentially comes a point which has historically happened a number of times where the water has to be released due to more rain. More dams? Same problem when the next big wet happens, assuming people will accept the dams (Traverston?). What if the La Nina was significantly shorter and the big wet doesn’t happen. What about Grantham? Has there been any record of an event such as the one that happened?

    Setting aside negligence, which I don’t think has happened and nor do I think you are asserting such, I think the more pertinent question will be what lessons do people act on after the immediate situation. Anna Bligh made a good comment the other day about standing on the shoulders of giants with regard to how she is being perceived now. The enduring test of leadership will be can she continue to do that by enacting good advice of giants when decisions need to be made about competing and political options.

  3. No complaints about the decision in the mid-70s to build the dam. It undoubtedly saved lives and homes. But it obviously wasn’t / isn’t enough.

  4. You’re right. We can’t change the past. But we can learn from it. Did the govt do enough to prevent this from happening? What do we need to do now to prevent it from happening again?

    But the issue I have with the uniform praise Bligh is getting, is that this happened on HER WATCH. It’s like Bush saying “No terrorist attacks happened on our watch…. after 9/11.” Yeah, but you DID let THAT happen. What did you do to prevent it?

    My concern is that our leadership in this country are more concerned with managing election cycles than projects that require long-term vision and execution. And if we don’t hold them to a higher standard, things won’t change.

  5. I concur and hopefully this event will focus not just the political leaders but the voters as well. That said, I read an interesting observation yesterday.

    “There have been some suggestions that this will save Bligh from losing the next election. I think that is perhaps suggesting a bit too much. John Brumby was excellent and applauded for how he handled the 2009 bushfires. In 2010 he was gone. Jim Cairns was cheered for his role after Cyclone Tracy, but that didn’t stop him being dumped as Deputy PM within 12 months. Winston Churchill led Britain threw the darkness of the blitz and WWII, and yet he lost he 1945 general election.

    People will praise a leader, and will remember fondly the way he or she performed during a time of crisis, but elections are about the economy, jobs, health etc etc as always. The big difference with this disaster is the rebuilding will still be going on by the time of the next QLD election, and so voters may wish to stick with the one who was there when it was darkest. But as I say, that didn’t save Winston in 1945.”

  6. I’m unsure of Brisbane or Toowoomba but have a few friends in Dalby (Where I lived for a decade or so.) In that region it’s obvious newer housing developments have been approved on flood prone land. With the amount of flooding its unlikely that will make much press but it should. Council’s should be held responsible for poor decisions made for monetary gain.

  7. I hold by my statement that you are a cock.

    “I don’t know anything about water management, but I have some questions.” Then go educate yourself and stop asking people, some very upset people, could it have been prevented. Public pontificating in a raw and emotional climate just to get a few clicks and links to your blog is despicable.

  8. I could give a rat’s ass about clicks to my blog, Allison. Asking questions here and on Twitter *is* an attempt to educate myself. If you have an intelligent response to my questions, then let’s have it. But lapsing into insults is pathetic. You should be ashamed.

  9. Excellent points.

    I’ve also been watching Obama’s response to the recent shooting in Arizona. Here was an excellent opportunity for him to speak about gun control and toning down America’s violent political climate, but so far I’ve seen him do neither. He’s saying plenty of nice platitudes, but where is the real leadership?

  10. I think Ian comments about Dalby understate the problem. Council has allowed industrial development in low areas. These include putting huge sheds on high pads. This pushes water into higher area.

  11. I think we’re missing lots of zeros here. Not litre, Megalitres. A reasonably sized farm dam hold several million litres.

    Wiverhoe at 100% hold 1.15 million MLs. Full, it holds an additional 1.45 million ML.

    I would point out too, that Wivenhoe Dam is above the Lockyer Creek’s confluence with the Brisbane River. So what’s need to guard brisbane is a Wivenhoe sized dam Lockyer too. Doubt a suitable site exists for a dam that size. Then there the question of Ipswich & the Bremer River, third big dam?

    A second Wivenhoe wouldn’t save Grantham or Murphy’s Creek, too low in the catchment. That would involve several embankment across creeks high in the catchment.

    If there is blame, it belongs to Goss goverment, who shelved the previous governments flood zoning/dam building plans that were the direct outcome of all the inquires and soul search that came from the 1974 floods. Indeed he sold the land that had been acquired for the Wolfdene Dam.

  12. to my understanding is that the dam was built for the main purpose of controling or preventing further flooding not water storage.and it would seem that we have forgoten that and put the main focus on water storage as a result from being in drought for so ever that is not the case any more and the focus should have been shifted straight back to flood awareness true leader ship is some one who looks forward when others cant thats why we we follow in this case i would think the leaders got it wrong.

  13. Now Bligh is saying they KNEW this was coming:

    Ms Bligh says cabinet received a direct briefing from weather bureau experts last year about what to expect.

    “We took the unprecedented step of actually inviting the weather bureau to come and formally present to the cabinet, because we were expecting a very severe weather pattern throughout the wet season, the likes of which the weather bureau tells us we haven’t seen since the early 1970s,” she told Sky News.

    So again I ask —– why weren’t the dams emptied before the rains hit??

  14. BRISBANE City Council’s top flood engineer recommended a decade ago that Wivenhoe Dam be operated differently to ensure a much larger buffer against flooding, documents obtained under Freedom of Information show.

    Engineer Ken Morris warned in an internal report, Brisbane River Flooding, that the existing and longstanding Queensland government policy of operating the dam at full supply level meant its capacity to mitigate floods was significantly compromised.

    Mr Morris, the council’s principal engineer for flood management, also warned a decade ago that the council’s development controls meant thousands of residents were unaware they would be severely hit by floods during rainfall events that were much smaller than those predicted to occur once in 100 years, despite assurances that their properties would not be affected.

  15. All your points are questions worth asking and that is why there is a commission of inquiry set up now as was the case with the ’74 floods that lead to recommendations for the building of Wivenhoe dam, better communication systems amongst other things. I’m sure the new inquiry will come up with some recommendations that we can all learn from.

    My concerns are for the unbridled belief in systems to fix issues so as removing people’s belief that they need to take responsibility for situations that develop. People thought that Wivenhoe would prevent a disaster like ’74, I never did! Yes, if it was identical to ’74 it would have reduced the impact by 2 m (a fact most people were unaware of), and not remove the threat entirely. Even so, the chances of it being identical to ’74 was minimal and nature would throw at us some other mix of situations that we may not be prepared for, as was the case this time around.

    Campbell Newman warned of this complacency back in October when he warned that if the rains fell outside of the Wivenhoe catchment the dam would have no effect on mitigating the affect on Brisbane and we could have a very bad situation – that’s what we got…1/2

  16. Mark, the dam does both, it was built for both. Wiverhoe at 100% hold 1.15 million MLs, the water storage bit. Full, it holds an additional 1.45 million ML, the flood mitigation bit.

    The question is how fast do you let water out to get back down to 100% (storage water only) level, just in case you do get that 8″ (200 mm) over night. Increased outflows means increased low level flooding, while all but once in the last 25 years that ‘freak’ event you exist for didn’t happen.

  17. So…I was wondering if you could put some information about floods around the world and if any of them were stopped? If some were stopped…then how so? I need help.

  18. More evidence that I’m right:

    LEAKED email communications from a Wivenhoe Dam engineering officer underline concerns that the Brisbane River flood was mostly caused by massive releases from the dam after it had held on to water too long over a crucial 72 hours before the severe rainfall that hit the region last week.

    Read more:

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