My local river – a postscript

A month after my 1st blog recounting the 2011 floods on the Brisbane River, its ground hog day.

Luckily for Brisbane residents the flood this January was a lot smaller than the one in January 2011. Unfortunately, other river communities on the east coast, such as Bundaberg on the Burnett River, didn’t fare so well in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Oswald.

This time around, in the absence of dealing with mud removal from our house, I could reflect on some of the events as they unfolded and what they say about how we manage water and rivers.

The timing of the flood was interesting – not from a meteorological perspective – summer is cyclone season – but as the aftershocks of the 2011 event were still playing out. The big local news item before the rains hit was a legal firm announcing class action against the Queensland government for how it operated Wivenhoe Dam during and before the 2011 flood.

Deja vu? Brisbane River, January 2013

Deja vu? Brisbane River, January 2013. Photo by S. Linke

Then, as it became clear that the Brisbane River was likely to flood again, our premier announced a release of water from Wivenhoe Dam. What interested me about this was that the decision was made independently of the dam operator (and presumably their experts) to “reassure people”.

Ironically, following the flood, Brisbane then faced a potable (drinking) water shortage. This came about as the main water treatment plant could not cope with high sediment levels in the floodwater. Poor water quality was also noted following the 2011 flood and was linked to land-use and associated erosion in some sub-catchments.

The muddy waters that blocked Mt Crosby water treatment plant

The muddy waters that blocked Mt Crosby water treatment plant. Photo by S. Linke

The prospect of Brisbane running out of water becomes more inexplicable when you consider the investment in infrastructure that occurred in the region at the end of the millennium drought. The government invested billions of dollars in a water grid connecting water utilities and “drought proofing” the region by building facilities for recycling wastewater and desalinating seawater.

Because of the perceived or actual reluctance of the public to embrace recycled water, the current system would only put the water in the dam anyway – if it were working to capacity. From there water treated in excess of drinking water standards gets purified somehow by mixing with the natural water sources that have clogged the water treatment plant.

In the land of “droughts and flooding rains” its time for a mature and well-informed discussion about water and river management.

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