Legislation change to allow flooding of Blue Mountains National Park condemned

A bill put forward by NSW Water Minister Niall Blair to allow national park upstream of Warragamba Dam to be flooded has been condemned by Labor, the Greens and environment groups.

In speaking to the bill in the upper house of parliament on September 19, Mr Blair said the purpose of the bill was to overcome a “technical barrier” that existed in the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Under threat: Lake Burragorang and protected areas that environmental groups say would be inundated if the Warragamba Dam wall is raised.

Under threat: Lake Burragorang and protected areas that environmental groups say would be inundated if the Warragamba Dam wall is raised.

“The bill amends the Water NSW Act by stipulating that the lease, licence, easement or right of way, which otherwise would be required under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1975, will not be required for the temporary inundation of land upstream of the Warragamba Dam wall when operated for flood mitigation purposes,” Mr Blair said.

The bill’s introduction has generated anger before the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal to raise the level of the dam wall by 14 metres for flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury/Nepean Valley has even gone out for public comment.

“If you create additional capacity by raising the dam wall to reduce flood risk, developers will rush in to build on those flood plains. There is also no guarantee that the dam won’t just be allowed to fill itself up again to the new greater capacity,” said Blue Mountains Labor MP Trish Doyle.

“Nothing I’ve seen in this proposal justifies or explains why the environment and Aboriginal heritage sites in the world heritage Blue Mountains National Park should be sacrificed.”

But Liberal Minister for western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, said the proposal was not about extra development on the floodplain.

“Raising the dam wall will not allow one single extra dwelling to be built on the flood plain than is already allowed,” he said.       

“Our long-term strategy is the result of five years of investigation into the best ways to reduce the risk to life, property and community from floods in the valley now and into the future,” Mr Ayres said.            

“Our plan protects people and property by raising the dam wall by around 14 metres which would temporarily inundate 0.06 per cent of the World Heritage Area, only in the event of a flood.”

NSW Greens spokesperson for urban water, Justin Field, said the move was akin to environmental vandalism and threatened the iconic and much-loved Blue Mountains world heritage area.

“The Greens strongly oppose the flooding of thousands of hectares of world heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park and the Warragamba Dam wall raising. We need to invest in water efficiency, recycling and re-use, not expensive, environmentally destructive dams,” he said.

Colong Foundation for Wilderness campaign manager Harry Burkitt said: “This bill is an existential attack on the National Parks and Wildlife Act, world heritage, the Blue Mountains, wild rivers and wilderness. It is unprecedented in modern times.

“Not since the Franklin Dam proposal have we we seen such a blatant disregard for a world heritage site in Australia.”

The bill is expected to be debated next week.