Big Solutions Create Bigger Problems

Glenda Pickersgill is a passionate conservationist and leading light in the Save the Mary River campaign.

ABC news on line reports that the Queensland Premier believes that the proposed Traveston Crossing dam at the Mary River Valley is a cheap solution for SE Queensland’s water needs.

The truth is somewhat different: as Oscar Wilde said “The cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”…

The Traveston Dam proposal was a political stunt, delivered by a premier who intended to retire. Despite the CSIRO evidence of decreasing rainfall in South East Queensland in his hands, his desperation to appear decisive and capable of managing the region’s water crisis won out.

Queensland has a new premier, one who is probably not planning to retire. Is Anna Bligh another instance of the longstanding Labor tradition of installing women leaders to lose graciously after the boys have made a mess?

But more is at risk than mere party politics.

If Traveston proceeds, it will exterminate the last significant breeding grounds of the threatened Australian lungfish, one of the world’s most ancient extant fish, a species allegedly protected by law. Surviving numerous changes in climate, a species spanning time beyond our imagination, is about to be extinguished. Other supposedly protected threatened species include the Mary River Turtle (a recently described, endangered species) and the Mary River Cod (also endangered).

Broadscale landclearing, also apparently illegal, will occur through the erasing of an entire landscape, alienating both traditional and contemporary landowners. Anything held sacred by traditional landowners will be immersed under the shallow swamp, currently known as the Mary River Valley. Traditional spiritual beliefs are easily sacrificed when only a minority of indigenous voters stand in the way of a presumably big vote winning capital project like Traveston.

The food security of a nation is under threat, which means the viability and liveability of our nation is equally at risk. Farmers are being driven from the land by Global Warming, those remaining have yet to adjust oil intensive systems of food production to meet the inescapable consequences of Peak Oil. Good farming land near cities will be increasingly important as these two crises combine to make cheap food a thing of the past. Traveston Dam will ruin South East Queensland’s deepest, most fertile, most reliably watered dairying land.

As if this is not enough the dam will simultaneously undermine our international commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, and the coming Carbon Trading scheme, because flooding will generate vast quantities of Greenhouse gases.

Government advisors well know that downstream pollution by water weeds, such as water hyacinth, will guarantee that the government breaches its own weed laws. Below almost every dam in Queensland you’ll see a toxic bed of water hyacinth, one of the world’s most invasive water weeds. Inexorably it creates airless, foetid water unfit for most aquatic native animals. Starved of sunlight, native waterplants also die out and the Lower Mary River will change forever. Traveston Dam’s gift of tainted water to the spawning and fishing grounds of Wide Bay will result in less healthy, less productive and less commercially viable fisheries.

These impacts are understood by Queenslanders, especially those connected to the Mary River Valley and Wide Bay. The Save the Mary campaign has rapidly united citizens, businesses, politicians, farmers, conservationists, families, the young and the old. The credibility of the Queensland government as a whole, not just political parties, is at stake.

Built or not the Traveston Dam is an historic relic of a bygone era. Building it in defiance of a warming climate defines Queensland as a 21st Century failed state. Shelving it in favour of a strong environment supporting our food and water security might yet make us a smart one.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
22nd October 2008