By CAITLIN CROWLEY
TOOWOOMBA Regional Council (TRC) has put its hand out for state government funding to help pay for mandatory safety upgrades to a local dam, despite being given more than 15 years to prepare for what will be the most expensive project in Council’s history.
The Cressbrook Dam Safety Upgrade Project must be finished by October 2025 and is expected to cost $250 – $300 million, but just $20 million has been allocated to the work in TRC’s $651 million 2023-24 budget.
The state government has asked TRC to submit a business case which it will consider as part of the request for help, but it’s not clear how TRC will pay for the mandatory project if the Palaszczuk Government doesn’t stump up significant funds.
Last week TRC resolved to move into negotiations with a preferred tenderer for the upgrade after what it said was a “rigorous tender process”.
The project will widen the dam spillway to increase flood resilience and protect landholders downstream in the Somerset Regional Council area, including Toogoolawah.
The upgrade is required under the Queensland Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water’s revision of the Australian National Committee on Large Dam (ANCOLD) guidelines on acceptable flood capacity modelling.
Toowoomba mayor Geoff McDonald (pictured below) said Council would deliver the project in partnership with the preferred tenderer under a “Project Alliance” model and would continue to advocate for government funding for the work.
The Caller understands a “Project Alliance” model reduces Council’s risk of cost blowouts, with the tenderer agreeing to cover unforeseen costs.
“This project is the single largest project in the history of Toowoomba Regional Council and that is why a Project Alliance delivery model will be established with the preferred tenderer,” McDonald said.
“Put simply, this project, while required to be delivered by TRC, has wider implications than just the Toowoomba region.
“Cressbrook Dam is a critical element in the proposed drought emergency water to be delivered to Warwick in the Southern Downs Regional Council via the Toowoomba to Warwick pipeline.
“I’m pleased that Queensland State Minister for Water Glenn Butcher has recently been available to meet with me to discuss the project, and has advised Council to submit a formal business case so the State can consider Council’s request for assistance.”
When former Mayor Paul Antonio (pictured below) handed down TRC’s budget earlier this year he acknowledged the spillway project would be “over and above” Council’s annual capital works program of $201 million total, and had been “quarantined”.
“We will continue to advocate for State and Commonwealth Government funding to ensure ratepayers do not pay the entire cost,” Antonio said at the time.
Antonio also flagged that Council was preparing for an “unparalleled level” of spending in the coming decade.
Water Minister Glenn Butcher (pictured above) told the Caller TRC had been aware of requirements for dam upgrade completions since 2007 and that the Palaszczuk Government had a strong record of supporting the Toowoomba region with its water needs.
“My department and I regularly engage with mayors about water issues, including catching up with Mayor McDonald during the last sitting of parliament and at the LGAQ conference in Gladstone, to discuss Cressbrook Dam,” Butcher said.
“The council is aware my department is willing to assist and Council is preparing a business case to support their funding request.
“The feedback I have received is that the council is very appreciative of the support provided by the government and staff within my department.”
Water portfolio councillor Rebecca Vonhoff recently warned Queensland state and local governments were facing an “infrastructure cliff” of ageing assets which would require expensive upgrades in the near future.
While some ratepayers have questioned why TRC didn’t start budgeting for the Cressbrook upgrade a decade ago, Vonhoff pointed to the ongoing projects which have demanded immediate attention in recent years.
“What are the big capital projects that we’ve spent money on in the last couple of years? It’s Mt Kynoch Water Treatment Plant, it’s the RO (reverse osmosis) Plant for Clifton, it’s the sewerage ponds at Clifton, it’s the Cressbrook trunk main,” Vonhoff (pictured) said.
“What of those is not critical?”
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Toowoomba North MP Trevor Watts said the state government had a responsibility to contribute funding for the dam upgrade.
“I think this dam was built in good faith by the people of Toowoomba, funded by the people of Toowoomba and it’s served us well,” Watts said.
“If it’s not meeting modern requirements I think the responsibility should be shared and that the state government should play a role in ensuring the people of Toowoomba have a secure water supply.
“I think the state government is not doing that. It’s taking a piecemeal approach – when water runs out somewhere it comes up with a pipeline that won’t be ready for years.”
Watts (pictured) was referring to the Toowoomba to Warwick pipeline project; a 109km underground pipeline that will carry water from Toowoomba to Warwick, providing a drought contingency supply for the Southern Downs and a permanent water supply to the towns of Cambooya, Greenmount, Nobby and Clifton along the way.
Watts told the Caller he wanted to see a thorough, 30 year water plan for the whole region.
“We should, in a short space of time, look at a water supply options assessment for the entirety of the Darling Downs, including Toowoomba and we should put everything on the table,” Watts said.
“It should be a sophisticated piece of work that understands the complexities and potential growth and everything else so that we can then advocate for what are the right decisions.”