Warragamba Dam battle lines drawn

Environmental groups, traditional owners, the Greens and Labor have roundly condemned the passing of legislation on Wednesday night to allow flooding of Blue Mountains National Park upstream of Warragamba Dam.

The legislation change will allow temporary inundation of land upstream of the dam wall, if plans to raise the wall by 14 metres for flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley proceed.

Blue Mountains Labor MP Trish Doyle spoke against the bill in Parliament on Wednesday.

“I do not buy the line that raising the dam wall will mitigate flood risk in real terms for people living in the Hawkesbury region right now. All that it will do is justify a huge amount of new property development on land that should be left well enough alone. There are alternatives to dam wall raising, which this government has refused to consider implementing,” she said.

“In the first place, the government could reduce the maximum allowable limit in Warragamba to provide overflow capacity during times of sustained rainfall and inflows to the Warragamba catchment area. This would require the supplementation of that lost water with the mothballed desalination plant that this government has allowed to fall into disrepair.”

During the debate Liberal MP for western Sydney, Stuart Ayres said: “There is not one line in the bill that changes the development consent for the flood plain. There is no proposal to lower the appropriate development flood level below one in 100.”

While acknowledging the impact on the Indigenous community, he said it would be a decision taken very seriously.

“But when we are talking about hundreds of thousands of real people’s lives and billions of dollars, we must be real about how we evaluate the balance on both sides of that discussion,” Mr Ayres said.

Before the bill made its way back into Parliament, it came before the Standing Committee on State Development which made a number of recommendations .

These included extending the time for surveys mapping of Aboriginal heritage in the area, as well as recommending the cost benefit analysis informing the dam raising be released to the committee.

Gundungurra woman Kazan Brown, said: “We hope this means the government will give us more than the 32 days provided to date to survey over 350 kilometres of shoreline that would be inundated.”

“If this proposal goes ahead, so much more of our history will be lost to time and the next generation of Gundungurra people will never even know what is gone,” Gundungurra woman Taylor Clarke told the committee.

And on Monday (October 15), Wollondilly councillors voted unanimously to oppose the raising of the dam wall, as they considered it important to preserve the environment and Indigenous heritage of the Burragorang Valley.

The NSW Greens have warned of a ‘Franklin Dam’ like campaign.

Greens Urban Water spokesman Justin Field said: “This will be Sydney’s ‘Franklin’ campaign to save the world heritage listed Blue Mountains and wild rivers like the Kowmung; the irreplaceable Aboriginal heritage in the river valleys and the threatened and endangered species that rely on the area.

“Make no mistake, even a temporary inundation of these hugely important, beautiful and sacred areas means the long-term destruction of its environmental and heritage values.”

A proposal in 1978 by the Tasmanian government to dam the Gordon River, which would have impacted the environmentally sensitive Franklin River, drew widespread protests and was eventually stopped.

Harry Burkitt, the Give a Dam campaign manager from the Colong Foundation For Wildnerness said thousands of people from all over Sydney were signing up to campaign against the dam. 

“There is little doubt the government will have a serious fight on its hands if it pushes ahead with the proposal,” he said.

An Environmental Impact Statement outlining the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the dam wall raising is currently being developed by the NSW government and will go out for public comment in 2019.