NSW gov’t plan to raise Warragamba Dam wall rejected

October 11, 2022
Warragamba Dam during flooding.
Warragamba Dam during flooding. Photo: The Wilderness Society

Environmentalists and residents of flood-prone areas of Western Sydney are angry with New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet’s October 6 decision to raise the Warragamba Dam wall.

They see the plan as a threat to communities and First Nations culture and point to evidence that a higher wall will not protect residents from flooding.

Perrottet declared Warragamba Dam to be “State Significant Infrastructure” (SSI) on October 5, allowing the government to bypass normal planning processes. He said that raising the wall would “future proof” Western Sydney.

Professor Jamie Pittock of the Australian National University said in March that flood control capacity of dams is “limited”. He pointed to the Brisbane homes being flooded “despite having one of Australia’s biggest flood control dams upstream”.

He said the NSW government should not be planning for 134,000 more people to live on the already over-populated floodplains.

Dangerous flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley of Western Sydney was noted as far back as 1817 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

“The valley now presents a high risk to 70,000 residents as physical choke points along the river channel, such as the Sackville Gorge, bank up and slow the discharge of large floods to the sea,” Pittock said.

“In modern Australia we expect our governments to apply expert knowledge in regulations and other programs to reduce excessive danger to citizens but such good governance has been lacking in the valley.”

He said if the NSW government is really concerned about flood risk “it should limit further development in harm’s way on the floodplain”.

He said evacuation roads in Western Sydney needed to be upgraded so that residents can flee safely. “As we saw … evacuation roads are being cut long before major floods hit.”

Western Sydney resident Gendy Parry-Okeden, who lives on farmland in the low-lying part of the region, said the groundswell of anger is turning a Liberal stronghold away from the party.

“We have to ask the question, why is he [Perrottet] coming out and saying this on the eve of a flood?” she asked. “If he thinks he’s winning votes, he’s really not reading the room.” 

The Wilderness Society (TWS) has long been campaigning against the dam wall being raised.

It cited former NSW emergency services minister and Colong Foundation chair Bob Debus as saying it was “dangerously misleading” to suggest that floods can be stopped by raising the Warragamba Dam wall.

TWS said on October 7 that Perrottet’s SSI decision prevents any community scrutiny of the proposal through the courts. It said communities would not be protected this way as “almost half of the flooding in the valley comes from waters that are not controlled by the Warragamba Dam”.

This is also the reason why former planning minister Rob Stokes “refused to declare the dam project Critical State Significant Infrastructure in September 2021”, TWS said, pointing out that Perrottet is ignoring his own government’s criticisms of the project.

The NSW government legal auditors’ review of the project’s environmental impact assessment, released in September, found that it “had been improperly prepared” by government agencies and SMEC Engineering.

“A clear picture is now emerging of the Perrottet government,” TWS said. “It is unwilling to find sensible solutions to flooding in Western Sydney, to respect good governance procedures or to seriously engage with community criticism about this flawed and dangerous scheme.”

According to Pittock: “There are no simple or cheap solutions to reducing the risk to life and property from floods in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley. Dangerous floods are inevitable and the safest option is to keep people off the floodplain, out of harm’s way.”

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