Extreme weather events prompt new approach to water supply management in Queensland

The past 20 years has been a period of dynamic policy change and adaptation for the management of water supplies in Queensland during climatic extremes. The late 1990s and the 2000s were generally a dry period in the state, including the Millennium Drought of 2001 to 2009. This was followed by the one of largest floods on record in South East Queensland in January 2011. These extreme weather events triggered a review of the flood operations and emergency responses associated with dams with potentially significant downstream impacts.

As stated in the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry report in 2011, ‘The drought brought home the value of water; the flood showed its capacity for destruction. These events demonstrated that Wivenhoe Dam is at once the most valuable and dangerous piece of public infrastructure in Queensland. The regulation and control of any such item is a matter of importance to the whole community.

Prior to the Millennium Drought, the 1990s was a period of long-term stable service delivery arrangements. However the SEQ2001 Project, providing a framework for managing growth, recognised in 1993 in its draft water and wastewater policy paper that responsibilities for regional water resource planning and development were not clearly defined. Only limited active regional planning had been undertaken as joint initiatives between the Water Resources Commission of the Department of Primary Industries and Brisbane and Area Water Board in 1991 and by the Department of Natural Resources in partnership with the SEQ Regional Organisation of Councils in the latter 1990s.

The Millennium Drought was far more severe than the Federation Drought of 1898 to 1903 and interest turned to clarifying responsibilities for regional water planning and maintaining regional supplies in worse than historical droughts. The Water Act 2000 established Queensland’s water entitlements framework and enhanced dam safety provisions later transferred to the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008.

The entitlements framework provides for the fair, orderly and efficient allocation of water to meet community and environmental needs. However, it does not address the specific water security requirements of water users. Nor does it address how to make best use of the available water entitlements and reserves identified for future purposes.

During the Millennium Drought extensive restructuring of policy and service delivery arrangements for bulk water supply, treatment, delivery and retail services occurred to entrench collaboration and a partnership approach to address the drought emergency.

The implementation of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry recommendations has improved flood operations and has clearly clarified responsibilities and accountabilities for flood risk management. Statutory processes now ensure, for the first time, integrated regional consideration of water resource planning, water supply security, weather forecasts, flood mitigation and dam safety matters. Further, there have been improvements in flood warnings’ communications by dam owners and Local Disaster Management Groups.

As a result of these changes, water supply planning, water infrastructure development and water resource management has become a more active, ongoing and purposeful activity requiring partnerships to make appropriate trade-offs to deal with the competing demands for water and the challenges of managing climatic extremes. The adaptive response to droughts and floods over time has become multi-dimensional impacting on policies and operational manuals. Much of the transition has been towards greater risk awareness and more comprehensive regional planning approaches enabled by the considerable advances in technology and weather forecasting capabilities over the last two decades.


Meet us during the World Water Congress and Exhibition in Brisbane:

Track 3: Re-charting the Course of Water Resources

Date: 2.15pm, Tuesday 11 October 2016

Topic: Adaptive Management of Water Supplies and Dams

Venue: Room P3, Climate Change, Floods and Droughts on Watershed Scale II, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

Website: https://www.dews.qld.gov.au/water/floods

Talk to the Experts Sessions

Date: Monday, 10 to Thursday, 13 October 2016

Venue: Exhibition Hall, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre


The Queensland departments of Energy and Water Supply; Natural Resources and Mines; Environment and Heritage Protection and Science and Information Technology and Innovation, SunWater and Seqwater are collaborating as part of a Queensland Government event partnership. The collaboration includes speakers at plenary sessions, business forums and topic experts available at the Queensland Government display in the Exhibition Hall.

Richard Priman

Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply