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Evaporation of the vision splendid

By Ian Mackay - posted Monday, 24 July 2006

While southeast Queenslanders are quite familiar with ingesting dam percentages as part of their nightly weather intake, what they aren’t getting to see is the parlous state of many of the state’s other water storage dams.

In a quest for current levels of other dams, a visit to the website of Sunwater, responsible for managing many of the bigger dams across the state, placed me face to face with an alarming map.

Whereas I had been led to believe it was both the drought and increased population pressure in the state’s southeast that had caused the water crisis, the red acne-like marks across the face of the SEQ map seemed to be telling me a different story.


Dam after dam - dams well away from areas of population pressure - were well below critical levels. Several were even at zero.

In a quest for both a better understanding and some visual documentation, my photographer daughter, grandson and I, spent four days and 1,800 kilometres traipsing across the southeast from one depleted storage to the next. Sure, regular updates of dwindling supplies in Brisbane’s supply dams showed them to be low, but the Sunwater figures were a lot worse.

It was seeing the 2.5 metre tree growing just a little above the waterline at Moogerah Dam, though, that really drove it home. Plainly the dam hadn’t been filled beyond this level for years.

Dates scrawled at the side of the spillway wall, indicating when the dam had overflowed only confirmed it. There was a mark for the memorable Australia Day floods of 1974, but nothing after 1976. The towering, impressively curved dam wall, tightly wedged between two massive hills, had been touted as something of an engineering feat when completed in the early 1960s.

Despite all the hopes behind its construction, it was clear that it had been holding back a dwindling water reserve for years.

Moogerah Dam - the name means either “place of storms” or “meeting place of storms” depending who you ask - is currently holding only 7 per cent of its capacity.


The water ski cottages hugging what was once its shore line, and the twice-extended boat ramp, tell the tale of a water level that has receded over a much longer time period than just the last few years.

One friend told me about watching enormous eels thunder over the spillway back in the early 70s. Another spoke wistfully of water skiing over the top of what is now a great isthmus jutting into the dwindling pond. Tall grass now covers the spillway area and fishermen drive the considerable length of the isthmus to cast a line. Pelicans, stilts and cormorants share the receding shoreline with grazing cattle in scenes that wouldn’t be out of place around a drying billabong much further inland.

But Moogerah is far from alone.

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First published on Jennifer Marohasy on politics and the environment on July 19, 2006.

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About the Author

Ian Mackay is a teacher, poet and environmentalist from the Mary Valley. For the last ten years he has been President of the Conondale Range Committee, one of the Sunshine Coast’s longest serving environment groups.

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