02 February 2012

Update: The Wivenhoe Investigation

UPDATE 5 Feb: The revelations from the inquiry continue.

I have commented occasionally on the role of flood management decisions leading up to the flooding of Brisbane in early 2011, as it is a fascinating case study at the intersection of science, uncertainty, decision processes, accountability and politics. As I mentioned last week the official investigation was re-opened after emails were released that suggested some inconsistencies in earlier reporting. The re-opened investigation started yesterday with explosive revelations:
In a series of heated exchanges at Queensland's recalled floods inquiry yesterday, SEQWater's principal engineer of dam safety, John Tibaldi, was grilled over a report he penned in the weeks following the January floods, which accounted for the actions he and his fellow engineers took.

At one point, Mr Tibaldi choked up in tears under the questioning.

Commissioner Cate Holmes, a Supreme Court judge, reconvened the inquiry after The Australian revealed evidence that appeared to show the dam was employing less severe flood mitigation strategies than those detailed in Mr Tibaldi's report.

As well as SEQWater officials and engineers being called to testify, Premier Anna Bligh has been asked to submit a written statement to the inquiry. Ms Bligh said she would provide a comprehensive statement by Monday and would submit a copy of her diary and relevant documents relating to the meetings and briefings she attended at the time of the floods.

Mr Tibaldi told the inquiry the report used raw data collected during the flood -- including lake levels and outflows -- and he then matched the data to the release strategies prescribed in the dam manual, known as W1, W2, W3 and W4. He said he had no recollection of asking the three other dam engineers which strategies they were using at various times during the disaster, but prepared the report based on the raw data and subsequently sought their approval.

"I tried to match the strategy transitions against the data that was available to me (and) just made conclusions based on that data as to when strategy transitions had occurred," he said.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan SC, suggested the manual was therefore used to analyse and justify the decisions taken by the four engineers -- Mr Tibaldi, Robert Ayre, Terry Malone and John Ruffini -- rather than dictating the decisions they took at the time.
Apparently SEQ Water is privately insured, though for what contingencies and to what financial level it is not clear from what I have read. What does seem increasingly clear is that someone is going to receive a big bill to settle what will inevitably be large claims against SEQ Water. Stay tuned.