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NSW Government Halts Warragamba Dam Wall Raising

Oct 29, 2023

The NSW Labor Government has officially put an end to the proposal to raise the wall of Warragamba Dam. WaterNSW has been directed to withdraw any planning applications related to this project.

“WaterNSW have now been directed to withdraw any planning applications made to the NSW Government for the Warragamba Dam Raising proposal. As such Water NSW requires the withdrawal of the State Significant Infrastructure application for Warragamba Dam Raising (SSI-8441) from the Department’s planning assessment process,” a letter dated October 2, 2023 from WaterNSW to the Department of Planning and Environment said.

The Minns government has officially halted plans to raise the dam wall.

This decision has been met with enthusiasm from groups that have long campaigned against the project. Stuart Hickson, commenting on the “Give A Dam” Facebook group, expressed relief, saying, “So so good. The one thing the ALP have done right since being elected.” Carolan Nicholson also commended the effort, hoping that this decision remains unchanged for years to come.

The withdrawal of the project has however raised questions about what is being done to mitigate flooding in the Hawkesbury. The former NSW Liberal government rejected calls for 12 metres of water to be released from the dam ahead of a major rain event to help mitigate the impact of flooding and reduce the flood peak by 2 metres. The new Labor government has shown no greater enthusiasm for the proposal instead focusing its flood strategy on limiting new floodplain development.

WaterNSW released a statement last year saying it had no ability to use the dam for flood mitigation.“…As the primary water supply for Greater Sydney, Warragamba Dam does not have a dedicated flood mitigation function, but its operating protocols allow for the storage to be reduced by up to one metres after reaching 100%,” it said.

This halting of the wall raising project coincides with a plan by the NSW Government to investigate doubling the capacity of Sydney’s Desalination plant. Currently, 85% of Sydney’s water supply depends on rainfall, making this expansion critical for drought resilience and accommodating population growth.

Expansion of the desalination plant would increase water production from 15% of the city’s water  to 30%, delivering up to 500 million litres per day. The investigations will determine if expanding the desalination plant at Kurnell to add another 90 billion litres a year to the network is the best and most cost-effective option, the government said.

The move aligns with the Greater Sydney Water Strategy, aiming to invest in non-rain-dependent water sources. Planning for this expansion’s first stage will commence shortly and conclude in 2024.

Plans are afoot to look at doubling the capacity of the desalination plant at Kurnell.

Minister for Water Rose Jackson emphasised the importance of securing Sydney’s water future in a changing climate. 

“In a drought, Warragamba Dam can go from full to empty in five years, so it is crucial that we actively explore options to expand our water sources which will take pressure off Sydney’s dams,” Jackson said.

Sydney Water Managing Director Roch Cheroux stressed the need for diversifying water sources to meet future demands as rainfall alone is no longer reliable.

“Sydney Water is preparing for the future by exploring all options as part of the Greater Sydney Water Strategy, including increased production of water supplied by the desalination plant,” Cheroux said.

“We can no longer rely on rainfall alone, so this investment allows us greater flexibility to diversify our water sources to meet Greater Sydney’s future demands,” he said.

An earlier report on the dam wall raising project indicated that raising the Warragamba Dam would have adverse effects, including longer isolation for Hawkesbury residents, prolonged closure of major transport routes and bridges, and significant impacts on health facilities and local residents, businesses, and farmlands.

Hawkesbury Council Mayor Sarah McMahon was angered when the unfunded wall raising project was scrapped. NSW member for the Hawkesbury Robyn Preston had also argued that raising the dam wall would provide a flood defence for the residents of the Hawkesbury. Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman said that raising the dam wall was a reckless and simplistic response to a complex problem that would have resulted in dire consequences.

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