It’s a Tough Dam Question

At the Queensland Major Contractors Association’s (QMCA) 2023 water breakfast, representatives of the state’s major dam asset owners put forward a bold challenge: for Queensland to become the world’s epicentre of dam design and construction.
This ambitious goal calls for Queensland to emerge as the global standard-bearer in dam engineering and construction excellence.
But what does this entail for Queensland, and what are the challenges and opportunities contributing to achieving this vision?

Understanding the Core Challenges

In Queensland, we seem to be perpetually in drought or flood, and as a result, our ability to manage water, control flow, and ensure supply is vital. Touching on every part of society, water security is becoming increasingly important and an issue of relevance for the public.
While the goal is an ambitious one, given our history of supporting major dam investment programs, we think the goal is achievable, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
  • To achieve global leadership in dam construction, several critical areas require addressing as demand intensifies and expectations increase:
  • Drivers Include:
    • Water Security: Ensuring reliable access to water for communities, agriculture, and industry.
    • Power Generation: Harnessing dams for sustainable energy solutions.
    • Population Demand: Catering to the water needs of a growing population
  • Barriers include:
    • Environmental Concerns: Balancing development with the preservation of natural habitats, exemplified by the need to protect unique species like the Mary River turtle and lungfish at Traveston.
    • Societal Expectations – The conversation around dam infrastructure is also deeply influenced by societal expectations around safety, regulatory compliance, and the dam owner’s duty of care. These expectations are evolving in response to the changing science of weather patterns, climate change, and the need for non-stationary risk management.
    • Cost – Dams are significant engineering undertakings. Major funded projects which support construction activity in the pipeline period include:
      • Burdekin Falls Dam Raising – Valued at $850m, with construction to commence in 2025/26 and completion expected in 2028/29
      • Wyaralong Dam WTP Stage 1 – Valued at $850m, with construction to commence in 2025/26 and completion expected in 2028/29
      • Logan Water Infrastructure Program Alliance – Valued at $746m, with construction commenced in 2019/20 and completion expected in 2027/28
      • Paradise Dam Improvement Project – Valued at $720m, with construction to commence in 2023/24 and completion – under new business case expected costs are expected to increase due to the new project specifications.
      • Fitzroy to Gladstone Pipeline Project (Water Treatment Plant and Pipeline) – Valued at $688m, with construction to commence in 2023/24 and completion expected in 2026/27
    • Regulatory Landscape and Project Timeframes – Recent changes in regulations highlight the increased accountability for dam owners, who must now justify upgrade timelines annually, track progress, and acknowledge the duration of known risks.
    • The Need for a Skilled Workforce – With 16 dams identified as exceeding societal tolerability limits for safety and many more requiring assessments, the demand for skilled dam builders is set to rise. The peak demand for dam projects between 2025 and 2030 underscores the need for more builders and the importance of integrating international expertise with local knowledge to address the complexities of dam construction effectively.
    • Competition – Within Queensland, new projects such as major pumped hydro initiatives at Borumba will not necessarily provide water security. However, they will consume people and resources to construct the dams and infrastructure associated with each project. We will face competition for people and resources from interstate and overseas markets as other jurisdictions invest in water security or energy generation dam solutions.

Addressing the Challenges

We have had a long history of supporting the development of critical dam infrastructure and understand the complexity of each project. Here are our quick thoughts on how to address some of the key challenges:
  • Timeframes – We believe that major dam projects should span 5 to 10 years and should be scheduled to be complimentary of each other so that contractors can build capacity, supply chains can operate smoothly and efficiently, stakeholders can be engaged, and we don’t end up with an overheated market due to project scheduling, particularly give the $90+ billion of work scheduled for delivery in Queensland over the next 5 years. With the anticipation of more pumped hydro projects and the potential for drought concerns to spur future dam initiatives, the need for strategic planning and execution is more critical than ever.
  • Engage Communities – Dam developments are often challenging projects for the wider community to support. Therefore, we have to change the discussion to help alleviate concerns about land use, cost, and damage to native species so that vital projects can progress with community support rather than protest.
  • Learn from our successes – Rookwood Weir is a project celebrated for its successes. From the innovative use of technology and materials to a collaborative approach to ensuring the project succeeds, learnings from this project should be shared across the industry to act as a case study of success.
  • Building Capacity and Capability – While we acknowledge that there will always be a challenge for resources in the sector, Queensland requires an additional estimated 33,515 workers on average will be required from now out to 2027/28 to deliver the state’s incredible pipeline of civil work with electricity, telecommunications and water projects expected to dominate labour demand. Peak labour demand across is expected to occur in 2027/28 at an average of 43,702 workers, a 78% surge relative to the 2023/24 requirements.
Therefore, we need to look at the following:
  • Industry culture and perception.
  • Increased flexible working arrangements and permanency of employment locations.
  • Recruitment of the next generation of talent to rewarding long-term careers in the sector.
  • Importation of skills and personnel when required.
Civil Project Partners is proud of its history of successful projects like the Rookwood Weir and acknowledges the lessons learned from across the sector through projects such as Traveston Dam. Ultimately, we believe our skills, knowledge, and expertise in Queensland can be harnessed to support the goal of being a centre of global dam excellence.
We can push the boundaries of what’s possible in dam infrastructure. However, to do so, we will need to work collectively to navigate construction challenges, optimise scheduling to avoid resource bottlenecks, and effectively manage and sustain materials and supply chains. In addition, we advocate for a balanced dialogue between water security, energy generation, and environmental stewardship so that competing interests can be harmonised and projects delivered with minimal competition.
To learn more about our involvement with Rookwood Weir and Cressbrook Dam visit:

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