Inquiry launched into fast-tracking of dams

Dams' rationale and impact under the microscope in Upper House inquiry

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The rebuilding Dungowan Dam will be one of the projects scrutinised in an Upper House inquiry. Photo: Tamworth Regional Council

The rebuilding Dungowan Dam will be one of the projects scrutinised in an Upper House inquiry. Photo: Tamworth Regional Council

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Inquiry welcomed by Lachlan floodplain and wetland group.

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Fast-tracked dam and water-infrastructure projects, including the rebuilding of Dungowan Dam and the expansion of Wyangala Dam, are set to be scrutinised by a NSW Upper House inquiry.

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The inquiry, led by Greens party member Cate Faehrmann, will investigate the rationale and impact of the Wyangala, Mole River and Dungowan Dam projects, as well as the Macquarie River re-regulating storage and Western Weirs projects.

All are part of a $1.1-billion dam building package announced by the federal and NSW governments last October and most were made eligible for fast-tracked approval under the Water Supply (Critical Needs) Bill 2019 in November.

Ms Faehrmann said the public deserved to know why the government had chosen to fast track these projects, "which will capture a combined 770 gigalitres from the Murray-Darling basin, significantly impacting downstream communities as well as fish populations and wetlands."

"The committee will carefully examine the environmental, cultural, social and economic impacts of the projects, including their impact on any national water agreements and international environmental obligations," Ms Faehrmann said.

She said there were growing concerns that the projects won't deliver enough water to where it's needed the most to justify costs or the impacts on rivers, wetlands and downstream communities.

The inquiry was welcomed by the recently formed Lachlan Floodplain and Wetland group who argue there has been a lack of transparency surrounding the raising of the Wyangala Dam wall.

Group member and Booligal grazier, Hugh McLean said they were over-the-moon that an inquiry had been launched.

"It's exactly what our group has been asking for, that these documents, the hydrological modelling, business case and environmental impact statement all be made public for comment, because we have grave concerns that these documents don't stack up and this will be a large misappropriation of public funds," he said.

Mr McLean said they were not opposed to capital works to improve water efficiency, but thought the money would be better spent on multiple smaller projects than a "big band-aid solution."

Executive Officer of irrigator group Lachlan Valley Water, May Ewing said water users were as keen as everyone else to see the business case for the Wyangala Dam expansion.

"Water security problems were highlighted by the millennium drought, when there were six years of zero allocation for general security, reduced high security allocations and even towns had to manage two years with only 50 per cent allocation," Ms Ewing said.

"While the average increase in reliability (from the Wyangala Dam project) is estimated at 21,050 ML/year we are keen to see the modelling because it is expected this will translate to more than 21,000 extra ML in dry years like 2019 and nothing in a wet year."

A spokesperson for Water Minister Melinda Pavey stated they were proud of the fact that they were building dams for the first time since 1987 and providing water security for the regions.

"The current drought has highlighted that without dams and infrastructure like weirs and pipelines a number of our rivers in the northern Basin would have run dry two years ago," they stated.

"It is important that we prepare NSW for future droughts while getting through this one."

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