Queensland Water Utilities Minister Stephen Robertson did not seek advice from his own department on Bureau of Meteorology forecasts for a wetter than average summer which resulted in the state’s worst-ever floods.
Mr Robertson was on Monday the first to give evidence at the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, looking into January’s statewide disaster.
The inquiry heard that on October 18, 2010 Bureau of Meteorology regional director Jim Davidson briefed cabinet on the La Nina weather pattern, saying it was not run-of-the-mill and advising the government to prepare for more rain and cyclones than usual.
Mr Robertson said he asked Wivenhoe Dam’s manager, SeqWater, whether it shouldn’t be lowered to 95 per cent capacity in preparation for the unusually wet season.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan, asked whether he also asked the advice of his own department, or only those bodies charged with the “water security” of the previously drought-stricken region.
Mr Robertson said he hadn’t raised it with his department, and also rejected that SeqWater and the Water Grid Manager were chiefly involved with drinking water security.
“I wouldn’t say it was their principal concern,” he told the inquiry in Brisbane.
“They have a range of concerns, one of which is maintenance of the full supply level or the maximum full supply level for supply to southeast Queensland, but I’m also aware they have very significant responsibilities in terms of dam safety.”
Earlier, Mr Callaghan said the four engineers who manned the Flood Operations Centre through the crisis had taken a “stoic approach” to their work, and the commission would consider whether the modest Brisbane CBD building should be better equipped.
Statements from the men have described how they had to duck out to buy meals during their 12-hour shifts, had only mattresses to sleep on if floodwaters cut access to their homes, and suggested there had been some doubt over whether their electricity supply would be maintained.
Also to be examined is a “difference of understanding” between the engineers and a Brisbane City Council officer, Ken Morris, who had a different understanding of the water level in the Brisbane River at Moggill that would result in flooding properties.
As a result of Mr Morris’s advice on January 10, the day a deluge of rain hit Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, the engineers limited releases from Wivenhoe Dam for five hours, until it was no longer practical.
Mr Callaghan said it was an example of communication with the centre that must be examined.
“While this exchange might have been of little consequence in the grand scheme of decision-making at the Flood Operations Centre, it’s an example of the communication we will be looking at,” he said.
The inquiry is also required to look at the issues of insurance and planning, but Mr Callaghan said these would be examined at hearings in the second half of the year.
The equivalent of six million pages of material has already been put to the commission, he said.