Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Anna Bligh | the web encircles her Government

Anna Bligh called for review into Wivenhoe Dam operation before Brisbane flood peaked
Premier Anna Bligh ordered an "independent review" be completed overnight into the management of Wivenhoe Dam just as it became apparent that engineers had lost their ability to protect Ipswich and Brisbane from flooding.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that at the height of the crisis on January 11, two days before Brisbane flooded, the Premier and her top adviser Ken Smith instructed Water Grid chief Barry Dennien immediately to hire an expert to produce the report after the trio discussed "the importance of ensuring public confidence in the operation of the dam".

The revelation, contained in an explosive new statement from Mr Dennien to the flood inquiry, raises questions about what Ms Bligh knew about the running of the dam even before the cities were flooded.

The Premier released a statement late last night confirming she ordered the urgent review after meetings on January 11 when she "formed the view that further advice should be sought, by way of a second opinion, on whether or not the proposed releases were appropriate".

Ms Bligh has previously dodged questions about pre-flood briefings, saying last month: "I honestly can't answer the question. I was asking, 'are people safe?'."

The consultant's report, later used to brief ministers and at least one Treasury official, gave the dam operation a clean bill of health - despite its author being unable to obtain any information on half of the key questions he posed and the fact that the event was not yet over. Mr Dennien's statement describes him meeting Ms Bligh and Mr Smith on the morning of January 11, after they all attended a gathering of the State Disaster Management Group. "I told them that Wivenhoe Dam had never experienced an event as big as the current event," Mr Dennien wrote. "While I commented that I had no personal reason to suspect that the dam operations were not appropriate, our discussion concerned the importance of ensuring public  "With that imperative in mind, it was agreed between the Premier, Mr Smith and me that an expert should be urgently retained to undertake an independent review. "I was instructed by the Premier and Mr Smith to immediately arrange the commissioning of an expert to assess how the dam operation was being performed against the requirements."

Brian Cooper, a private consultant, was chosen that day from a list of four people provided by DERM's dam safety manager Peter Allen. Mr Cooper was hired that afternoon, just as the releases from Wivenhoe were being ramped up. Mr Cooper was asked to provide preliminary advice by 9am the following morning and a "formal written report" by 4pm.

As his report came in, at 3.30pm on January 12, there was major flooding in Ipswich and Brisbane after massive releases from Wivenhoe that peaked at 7pm the previous evening. Mr Cooper's review concluded that "the actions taken and decisions made during the Flood Event appear to have been prudent and appropriate in the context of the available knowledge available (sic) to those responsible for flood operations and the way events unfolded." But he complained he could not access key information.
Ms Bligh said last night she was happy for the commission to release her statement in full.

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Anna Bligh's full statement to The Courier-Mail

I dealt with this in my own statement to the Commission. I have provided the following information to the Commission.

I stated that while I was made aware of the continuing impacts of the changing weather forecast, my understanding and key area of inquiry was the impact of any downstream inundation. Any reference to strategies implemented during this time was provided through the technical situation reports which were distributed during this time to all the Local Government and State Government member agencies.

I recall that my then Director-General, Mr Ken Smith, advised me on the afternoon of Monday, 10 January 2011, that there was the likelihood of potential severe flooding in Ipswich and Brisbane with inundation levels that could be at the 1974 level of flooding. As a result of this briefing I conducted a media conference with the State Disaster Coordinator, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr Ian Stewart, to make this advice public.

Further, I can recall, that after the briefings at the SDMG meeting held on the morning of Tuesday, 11 January 2011, where the scale of the planned Wivenhoe Dam releases and their downstream impact was outlined in detail, I formed the view that further advice should be sought, by way of a second opinion, on whether or not the proposed releases were appropriate. I instructed my Director-General to engage an independent expert to provide a second opinion on the appropriateness of proposed releases.

I understand that this is when my Director-General implemented my requests through the Department of Environment and Resource Management to engage Mr Brian Cooper. Mr Cooper was asked to provide independent expert advice about the release strategy.

During the period of 7 January 2011 and 12 January 2011 there were a number of press conferences held and media releases distributed which describe my knowledge of events as they were unfolding.

I have also provided copies of all aforementioned reports, transcripts of press conferences and the report by Mr Cooper to the independent Commission. I understand the report by Mr Cooper has been attached to previous submissions and is on the Commission of Inquiry website.

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January 11, 2011


SEQ Water Grid Manager CEO Barry Dennien receives email from director of operations Dan Spiller warning Wivenhoe Dam lake level is at 73.51m and rising at 25mm an hour. Releases, which have been at 2750 cumecs since 7.30pm on Monday, January 10, may need to be increased “and this may result in river flows in the lower Brisbane River approaching or exceeding 5000 cumecs’’.


State Disaster Management Group meeting starts at Kedron attended by Premier Anna Bligh and her then director-general Ken Smith.


Bob Reilly, head of dam safety at DERM, sends an email to Debbie Best, acting head of DERM, warning that “I hope everyone appreciates we are now in a situation with respect to Wivenhoe where our options … are much more limited than they were before. The most immediate issue, he writes, “is not the safety of the dam itself, but ensuring water levels do not rise to 75.5m. At that level, ‘fuse plugs’ start to progressively fail, resulting in … uncontrolled release of floodwaters’’.


Mr Dennien receives email from Peter Allen, dam safety director at DERM, listing four possible experts to report on the operation of Wivenhoe.


Elaine Smouha, Water Grid Manager director of governance and regulatory compliance, emails Ken Smith telling him of plan to hire Brian Cooper.


Releases exceed 4000 cumecs for the first time, as inflow hits all-time peak of 11560 cumecs.


Ms Smouha emails Mr Cooper with draft consultancy agreement.


January 12, 2011


Mr Cooper emails initial report to Mr Dennien.


Mr Dennien sends initial report to Water Minister Stephen Robertson.


Mr Cooper sends Ms Smouha his final report.

Ipswich flood peaks.


January 13, 2011


Brisbane flood peaks.


January 14


Ms Smouha sends final report to Ken Smith.


January 17


Ms Smouha emails Mr Dennien saying Ken Sedgwick, Assistant Under-Treasurer at Queensland Treasury, wants an update on the report.

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