Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wivenhoe Dam operator in sights of Qld. flood inquiry

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday bowed to pressure to set up an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission, as the death toll from the flooding hit 20.

Fresh claims that 80 per cent of the Brisbane River flood, at its peak, was a direct result of the forced release of a huge volume of water from the city's main dam will be investigated by the judicial inquiry into the disaster in southeast Queensland.

The federal government has also refused to rule out any options for funding the multi-billion-dollar cost of reconstruction, including a national levy.

To be headed by veteran judge Cate Holmes, the inquiry will investigate whether enough was done to prevent the loss of life and massive property damage in Brisbane and communities to its west.

Central to the inquiry will be questions, raised by The Australian, of whether Wivenhoe Dam was mismanaged in the lead-up to the emergency that erupted last week with deadly flash flooding in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, and led to the worst flooding on record in Brisbane and neighbouring Ipswich.

More than 80 per cent of the flood in the Brisbane River at its peak last Thursday was the direct result of the release from Wivenhoe, the city's flood shield, of up to 30 per cent of its capacity, according to official data obtained by The Australian. The data shows that, without the unprecedented and massive release at a peak rate of 645,000 megalitres a day from the dam on Tuesday, January 11, the flooding in Brisbane would have been minimal.

The inquiry's terms of reference, released yesterday by Ms Bligh, call for scrutiny of the water release strategy for Wivenhoe and Somerset Dam further upriver, and their suitability for "flood mitigation and dam safety".

Data from Wivenhoe's registered owner and operator, the Queensland government-owned SEQWater, shows that the peak flow in the Brisbane River in the early hours of the flood last Thursday was about 9000 cubic metres per second. It takes about 36 hours for a release from the dam to reach the city gauge in Brisbane.

Hydrology and engineering experts said a release of a peak rate of 645,000 megalitres a day would produce a flow of almost 7500 cubic metres per second, although a number of factors, including river contours and the time it takes water to travel from the dam to the city gauge in Brisbane, mean the extrapolation is not precise.

However, they said it was clear that the flooding occurred because of the release from the dam.

The flooding Bremer River, which cuts through Ipswich and meets the Brisbane River to the west of the state's capital, was not nearly enough on its own to cause the devastating flooding of thousands of homes in Brisbane.

One of the most critical tasks for the commission will be to examine whether the operators at Wivenhoe Dam retained water in the dam's flood compartment for too long, forcing a drastic release that compounded the flood instead of mitigating it.

The commission of inquiry will also pore over the emergency response and the performance of private insurers after the flooding, and hand down interim findings on flood preparedness in August.

Mr Bligh has ordered Justice Holmes to deliver her final report by January 17 next year. If her government runs full term, as the Premier has promised, this will be in the lead-up to the state election, due by March next year.

In interviews yesterday, Ms Bligh stopped short of commending the operation of Wivenhoe ahead of the Brisbane flooding that inundated more than 17,000 homes and 65 suburbs, the CBD and central parts of Ipswich. "I want to know that our dams work as they're supposed to and are operated as well as they technically can be," Ms Bligh said.

"I want to reassure the people of Brisbane that I want - just as much as they do - to know the answer to these questions. And I think they are very technical questions and that we need to get expertise from around Australia to really have a look at what happened, what could have been done differently so that we are well prepared should we ever see that sort of water coming into that catchment again. So these are very legitimate questions and I'm not going to shy away from them. I want to know the answers just as much as anybody else." ....

Announcing the inquiry, Ms Bligh said Justice Holmes had been empowered to comb over all aspects of the preparation and planning for the floods. "This commission of inquiry . . . is absolutely critical to us understanding firstly the community preparedness and the emergency response," she said. "We need to learn the lessons of this event so that we can protect ourselves better in the future. We need to honour those who have tragically lost their lives in this catastrophe and we need to do that by learning the lessons of the event."

Justice Holmes, a Supreme Court and Appeals Court judge of 10 years experience, who once represented mass killer Ivan Milat in private law practice, will be assisted by post-Fitzgerald inquiry Queensland police commissioner Jim O'Sullivan, and Phil Cummins, the chair of the international council on large dams.

The Australian yesterday revealed expert concerns that water releases held back in the week prior to the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley deluge kept Wivenhoe Dam at dangerously high levels and worsened flooding in Brisbane. "In the aftermath of this event, people have legitimate questions and those questions, in my view, require a comprehensive and rigorous examination of all of the factors surrounding these events," Ms Bligh said. "In relation to the Wivenhoe Dam, it is legitimate to ask questions about the operation of that dam. Like so many other people in this city, I live here with my family, I have the same questions and want to make sure that we are getting absolutely thoroughly tested information in answering that question."

She said the assessment would also investigate whether other dams in the region could help mitigate floods in the future.

The Local Government Association of Queensland raised concerns last week that an inquiry could divert essential resources from the clean-up effort, but Ms Bligh said she had requested the commission to structure the hearings to allow vital work for small and medium councils to continue unimpeded.


More secrecy from Gillard as she tries to cover up a boondoggle

JULIA Gillard is standing by an exemption from freedom of information laws for NBN Co - the publicly-owned company building Australia's biggest infrastructure project. As an incorporated company, NBN Co will avoid FOI scrutiny, unlike Australia Post, the ABC, SBS and Telstra before it was privatised.

The Prime Minister today confirmed the public would not get access to information held by the company rolling out the $36 billion National Broadband Network. “My understanding is that this is the ordinary operation of the Freedom of Information Act; that a body like NBN Co would not be subject to it,” Ms Gillard said. “I think with freedom of information laws, we have the system, the system is there, the system is one where something like NBN Co is not covered by them so it's just ordinary business.”

The federal opposition has vowed to pursue the matter in parliament, saying it is an issue of principle. “This is not a private company that the government has taken an investment in, this is a company that has been established for the sole purpose of fulfilling a government policy,” communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull told ABC radio.

Greens communication spokesman Scott Ludlam said it was unacceptable that a public company investing $27.5 billion of public money would be exempt from scrutiny.

Two new parliamentary inquiries into the network are pending, and both the opposition and the Greens have fought for months for greater transparency for the project.

The much-delayed business case for the network was only released by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy late last year after pressure from crossbench senators.


Thousands of Afghan "asylum seekers" face deportation from Australia

AUSTRALIA has the green light to deport thousands of Afghan asylum seekers after reaching a historic agreement with the Afghan government.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Afghan Refugee Minister, Jamaher Anwary, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sydney yesterday. It enables the forced return of Afghans whose bids for asylum fail. The move is alarming security experts and refugee advocates.

Mr Bowen said it would deter Afghans considering travelling to Australia. "Never, all through the Howard years, never before today, has there been an involuntary return from Australia to Afghanistan," he said. "To dissuade people from risking their lives by joining people-smuggling ventures, it is important that Afghans found not to be owed protection by Australia are returned to Afghanistan."

About 2600 Afghans are in Australia's detention centres. Of those, 49 must win court appeals to avoid imminent deportation.

The opposition was sceptical about the agreement, saying it was only as good as the government's will to enforce it. "The minister is unable to say when anyone is going to be returned," said its immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison. "It's not clear to me the government has the resolve to implement this."

In three years, only three asylum seekers have been returned to Afghanistan - all last year after volunteering to go. In 2008 and 2009, 126 people were returned to their countries of origin.

The director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, William Maley, warned that ethnic Hazaras, in particular, should not be deported without extreme caution. "The security situation in Afghanistan is extremely unsettling," he said.

He cast doubt on the security expertise of Australian officials making refugee assessments. The decapitation of 11 Hazaras in Oruzgan province in June contradicted a cable from the Kabul embassy proclaiming a "golden age" for Hazaras, he said.

The Refugee Council of Australia was concerned by the lack of safeguards the memorandum provided for returned asylum seekers. "In Afghanistan, people are not so much under threat from actions by government but the actions of people who the government cannot, or chooses not to, control," said the chief executive, Paul Power.

The Australian government has promised money to help Afghanistan improve its passport system and accommodation for returned asylum seekers. The UN has agreed to ad hoc monitoring.


The Queensland floods are not related to anthropogenic global warming

By Cliff Ollier (Emeritus Professor Cliff Ollier is a geologist and geomorphologist)

The Queensland floods are a disaster that demands our sympathy and earnest attempts to prevent similar damage in future. But to do this properly we need to see the floods in the perspective of time, and see the history of flooding. This is best done by concentrating on the Brisbane region simply because it has the longest historical record.

This record has been admirably collated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and the details can be seen at this site, which gives a blow-by-blow summary of the floods.

Below are shown the records for Brisbane and the Bremer River at Ipswich. The variation between the two is itself of interest, showing how different records can be at relatively close locations. This history is a necessary background to the following discussion.

One of the sidelines of disasters like the Queensland floods is that the leaders of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Campaign will try to relate the disaster to Global Warming, caused by increasing man-made carbon dioxide. This has been done for the Queensland floods by, for example, David Karoly who for some reason gets a lot of coverage in the press and Television in Australia (though he has no expertise in this area), and Michael Steketee, the resident AGW specialist in The Australian.

There are at least three arguments against relating the Queensland floods to Anthropogenic Global Warming.

1. Even other people in the Global Warming game realize there is no relationship between broad disasters and carbon dioxide. The leading AGW institution is the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Christopher Monckton wrote of an article in The Australian in January 2011:

“Mr. Steketee’s short article makes two dozen questionable assertions, [I refer only to point 18] which either require heavy qualification or are downright false. His assertions will be printed in bold face: the truth will appear in Roman face.


Cautious scientists say no such thing. Even the excitable and exaggeration-prone IPCC has repeatedly stated that individual extreme-weather events cannot be attributed to manmade “global warming; it would be particularly incautious of any scientist to blame the blocking highs that caused nearly all of the weather-related damage in 2010 on us when these are long-established, naturally-occurring phenomena.”

2. The second problem is that this is not an isolated event. There was another flood of about the same dimensions in 1974. There was no peak of CO2 at that time. It was not an especially warm year, so Global Warming cannot be invoked (1998 was a hotter year, but no flood).

But there were even greater floods in 1841 and 1893. This is well before any possible Anthropogenic Global Warming, which began, according to its adherents, in 1945.

And there were many other floods of lower magnitude, long before the supposed advent of Anthropogenic Global Warming as shown in the BoM graphs.

3. A third problem is that just a few years ago, global warming was blamed for causing droughts. This opinion was extolled during the last drought especially by Tim Flannery, another non-expert.

In 2003 Professor Karoly published, under the auspices of the World Wildlife Fund, a report that claimed that elevated air temperatures, due to CO2, exacerbated the drought.

“...the higher temperatures caused a marked increase in evaporation rates, which sped up the loss of soil moisture and the drying of vegetation and watercourses. This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed...”


“This drought has had a more severe impact than any other drought since at least 1950.... This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed.”

So Anthropogenic Global Warming can apparently be used to explain any current disaster. Any hypothesis (like AGW) that uses the same mechanism to explain opposite effects is untestable, and therefore not science. Its models are totally useless for prediction.

In brief, there is no reason whatever to associate the Queensland floods with global warming (if it is occurring at all). It is even more ridiculous to blame it on a trivial increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately the floods will come again. You might like to look at the data on the BoM website and try to determine the return interval for yourself. It is really a bit of a guess.

But the citizens of Queensland would be well advised to implement adaptation policies that have a more realistic impact than trying to reduce CO2 production in the vain hope that it will, like repeating some magic spell, make the nasty problem go away.


Eco doomsayers: blind to history, unreliable tipsters

Senator Bob Brown is old enough to know better. Literally. At the weekend, the Greens' leader blamed the coal industry for the floods currently devastating large parts of Australia. In the media release headed "Coal barons should help pay for the catastrophes", he argued for an increased tax on the coal industry to "help pay the cost of the predicted more severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in coming decades".

The Greens leader, who was trained in medicine, is a very effective politician. It's a pity, however, that he does not spend more time reading history. Born in December 1944, Brown was almost 30 when, in January 1974, the area around Brisbane was inundated with water - in a flood which killed 14 people.

If Brown studied history he would know that there were numerous floods in Brisbane in the 1890s - in 1890, 1893, 1896 and 1898. Eighteen ninety-three was the worst year, with the height of the flood measured at more than nine metres. The history of the time is documented in Ronald Lawson's book Brisbane in the 1890s, which was published a year before the 1974 flood.

Lawson had this to say about the two floods that afflicted Brisbane in 1893: "Railway lines were temporarily cut, the river blocked, the bridges destroyed, warehouses inundated, and stock ruined. Furthermore, since most workers' homes were in low-lying areas, the floods exacerbated the plight of many of the unemployed."

In 1893 the working class tended to live in the low-lying areas, close to the river. By 2011, these areas were very much the preserve of the more affluent, who were encouraged by the Brisbane City Council, especially during Jim Soorley's time as lord mayor (1991-2003), to embrace the Brisbane River.

During the past week, the Premier, Anna Bligh, has been praised widely for handling the flood crisis in Queensland. She deserves this. Campbell Newman, Brisbane's Liberal lord mayor, has also put in a sterling performance. Newman's military background has equipped him well for crisis management. But there is more to it than this.

Newman approaches the crisis with considerable authority. He has been one of the few senior Queensland politicians who have told it as it is. Newman's message is blunt. Brisbane was built on a flood plain. This explains why there has been so much flooding of Brisbane - in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Put simply, Brisbane has flooded in the past and, sadly, it will flood again.

When Brisbane flooded in 1893 and 1974, at levels higher than last week, no one blamed global warming in general or the chief executives of coal companies in particular.

In his statement at the weekend, Brown overlooked the fact that the reason the flood peak was higher in 1974 than 2011 turned on the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam, which was opposed by environmentalists of the day.

What has been particularly valuable about the extensive media coverage, particularly on ABC News 24 and Sky News, has been the focus on older Australians in Brisbane and in numerous towns on various rivers. They remember past floods in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, just as older Victorians, who experienced the bushfires of Black Saturday 2009, remembered Black Friday of 1939.

Writing in The Age last Friday, Ellen Sandell declared that "these floods should be a deafening wake-up call". She is national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Sandell wrote: "As a young person who will inherit the world being created now, I want us to start talking about what needs to happen to prevent this kind of tragedy from occurring again and again. I don't want to live in the kind of world we are previewing right now."

Sandell is a true-believing environmentalist. Pity she does not know more history. There has always been droughts and bushfires and floods in Australia, before and after European settlement. There always will be. If Sandell does not want to live in this kind of world, then the only solution is personal emigration. The problem is that most countries, over the ages, have experienced weather disasters. It's called nature.

The problem with so many environmentalists turns on their capacity to exaggerate, which is exacerbated by a lack of historical awareness. There is much of the eco-catastrophist in lawyer/politician Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, film and book. Yet he remains a hero of the green movement.

It's much the same with the American academic Paul Ehrlich. The thesis of his 1968 book The Population Bomb was that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over". Ehrlich predicted that "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions will starve to death". He even prophesied that Australia would close its borders in 1974 to prevent a fever pandemic.

None of this happened. Yet Ehrlich is still making predictions of doom. He was interviewed on the Radio National Late Night Live program a year ago, but no one spoke about false prophecy. It's much the same with Brown. Eco-catastrophist seers are rarely held to account for unfulfilled predictions or historical amnesia.

In recent years, there has been much public funding of environmental causes. Brown's ahistorical approach to weather disasters indicates Australia should put more resources into history courses. Let's start with the Brisbane floods of 1893, 1974 and 2011.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Given all the taxpayer cash thats been lavished on UN AGW hawkers and third world corruption centres by our "Government" then I think Gillard's push for a "national levy" is beyond disgusting.