2021 – Paradise Dam and its present and future impact on dam projects

Chris Nielsen, Ron Guppy, Donna Dunn, David Murray

Following several years of investigations and analysis a serious safety issue with the stability of the primary spillway during major flood events was identified at Paradise Dam that required urgent risk reduction works. The response to this safety issue was significant.

The Inspector General Emergency Management conducted a review into the effectiveness of emergency response if a dam safety event were to occur, taking into consideration process and communications to manage around 40,000 population at risk, comprised mostly of residents within the city of Bundaberg.

An essential works program to reduce the risk was urgently prepared then executed effectively within a calendar year. This short timeframe required significant and novel amendments to Queensland’s laws to bypass normal legislated process for such a major project.

The Paradise Dam Commission of Inquiry was established to identify the root cause of the issues, the facts and circumstances that contributed to them and recommendations to consider for future dam projects. All recommendations from the commission were accepted by the Queensland government and, following an extensive stakeholder engagement exercise, have been implemented through changes in policy and methodology and described in published guideline revisions.

For future dam projects the lessons learnt highlighted the need for early and ongoing engagement of
independent technical review, project governance that is cognisant of risk and the ownership and capacity to bear of that risk, the need to consider testing to confirm critical design parameters and the need for an effective regulator. The essential works program has established a precedent for the timely and appropriate application of risk reduction measures.

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