Ongoing dry conditions in the Wide Bay Burnett, combined with the release of 100,000 ML of water from the dam in late 2019 by dam operator Sunwater, have resulted in predictions that Paradise Dam will be empty within weeks. As such, historically low water allocations are anticipated for this July.

“Water becomes very expensive once allocations are as low as 5% or 10% because growers are still slugged with the fixed costs for their full allocation, even if they only receive 5% of that allocation,” said Tom Marland of Marland Law.

For local avocado and macadamia grower, Craig Van Royen, a 5% announced allocation means his 270 ML allocation will shrink to just 13.5 ML.

“Such a low allocation is unworkable for our farm,” said Mr Van Royen.

“I am facing the very real prospect of watching my avocado trees die before Christmas this year. If this had arisen purely due to drought, then I would have to accept it but knowing that the Government’s decision to release 100 000 ML out to sea has brought us to such a desperate situation is a very bitter pill to swallow”.

Marland Law has been engaged by local growers to bring a class action against the State Government and Sunwater over the losses associated with the government’s handling of the Paradise Dam situation.

“Our preliminary calculations on the losses growers may incur, as a result of the lowering of the dam, show that Sunwater’s fixed charges will result in the actual water used by the grower costing as much as $1100/ML for a 100 ML allocation,” said Mr Marland. “That’s a 1000% increase in their water costs. How would the average motorist feel if they pulled into the servo tomorrow morning and found the fuel price had jumped from $1.40/L* to $14/L overnight?”

Mr Marland further stated that Bundaberg region irrigators are currently on a 75% announced allocation and Sunwater’s fixed charges on a 75% announced allocation means growers’ water costs have increased from $108/ML to $126/ML for every megalitre used. At a 5% or 10% announced allocation, Sunwater’s fixed charges would push the costs per megalitre used to astronomical highs.

The battle to save Paradise Dam has raged since September 2019 when the Water Minister announced Sunwater would be releasing 100 000 ML from Paradise Dam, in order to lower the wall of the dam, due to safety concerns. Since that announcement the Bundaberg region farming community has fought hard to engage the Government in meaningful discussions about saving the dam, including engaging one of the world’s leading dam safety experts, Dr Paul Rizzo, to provide a second opinion on the future of the dam. The dam wall was lowered despite all this.

Mr Marland, who is leading the class action on behalf of the farmers, said after a number of shed meetings held throughout the region recently, farmers have raised over a million dollars to fund a class action.

“Restoring that dam is paramount to this community and has a massive flow-on benefit to the whole state,” added Mr Marland. “At the end of the day, farmers don’t want a cheque from the government, they want water.