The Queensland government has ordered an independent review of how a dam was operated before floods hit the Eton area, south of Mackay, sparking dozens of dramatic rescues.
Choppers had to pluck Eton residents to safety last Wednesday after Cyclone Debbie crossed the coast, flooding properties downstream of the Kinchant Dam.
State Water Minister Mark Bailey has ordered the state’s chief scientist to review how the dam was operated, whether that contributed to the scale of the flooding, and the adequacy of warnings given to downstream residents.
Residents have said they weren’t told of releases from the dam after phone and internet services went down, and believe those releases made the flood disaster much worse.
Mr Bailey said Queensland’s Chief Scientist Professor Suzanne Miller would investigate the dam’s operation.
“It is crucial for communities living and working downstream of the dams to receive timely and clear notifications of any spills,” he said on Wednesday.
She’s due to report back by June 30.
More than 40 people had to be rescued from the Eton area after floodwaters inundated homes.
Some residents were forced to clamber onto rooftops, where they waited for rescue, which in some cases didn’t come until the following day.
They’ve questioned why more water wasn’t released before the cyclone crossed the coast.
SunWater has defended its management of the dam and has told Mackay’s Daily Mercury that it began water releases on Monday, the day before Debbie crossed the coast.
At that stage the upstream dam was sitting at 103 per cent of its maximum operating level, the Mercury reported.
Executive general manager of operations Colin Bendall said SunWater had done what it could to warn those downstream of ramped up releases.
He said it wasn’t SunWater’s role to ensure those warnings reached people when the dam operator’s text messages stopped getting through.
“It’s not SunWater’s role to go out into a cyclone and knock on doors. That’s the local disaster management group and emergency services would perform that role. And we wouldn’t send our staff out into the cyclone until it is safe to do so.” he told the Mercury.
“SunWater feeds information into these groups as part of the bigger picture, not just the isolated section that relates to the dams.
He also said there were three branches of Sandy Creek that flow to the Eton area and Kinchant Dam affected just one of those.