On March 20, 120 protesters gathered at Foreshore Park in Newcastle to protest against the proposed Tillegra dam. The protest was the culmination of the week-long "Walk for the Williams", which started at Brownmore, passing the site of the proposed dam near Dungog before proceeding along the Williams River to Newcastle Harbour.
Newcastle Wilderness Society (TWS) community campaigner Justin McKee told Green Left Weekly Hunter Water Corporation said the dam would cost $477 million, but "the Environmental Defenders Office recently warned that, due to geological instability in the inundation area, costs could blow out to as much as $1 billion".
Already, the price has blown out almost 40% from its original projected cost of $344 million when the project was announced in 2007. McKee said: "Hunter residents would be paying for the dam for the next 100 years."
Asked what alternatives could be invested in rather than this huge dam, McKee said "smaller-scale water management measures, such as the installation of rainwater tanks and recycling of storm water".
One of the concerns of the Save the Williams River campaigners is that the dam will reduce flows into the river, threatening the habitat of many species, including platypuses, the endangered stuttering frog and healthy populations of wild bass, which make the river popular with fishing enthusiasts.
McKee said: "A major environmental concern is the reduction of fresh water flows into the Hunter Wetland Estuary, which is a Ramsar-listed site."
McKee said Hunter Water Corporation had "purchased the majority of property in the inundation area, and if the dam is approved it would naturally put pressure on those who have not yet sold their land to the company to do so. There are land owners who are stating that they will refuse to sell their land."
Cynically, the NSW government claims to be worried about droughts caused by climate change, and is using this to justify the dam while. At the same time, it has approved a massive expansion of water-intensive coalmines and three new big coal-fired power projects.
According to the Hunter Water Corporation website on March 25, Hunter dams are at 79.4% of capacity. McKee said: "TWS commissioned the Institute for Sustainable Futures to conduct an independent assessment report into the need for the Tillegra dam. The ISF report indicated that rainfall would increase as a result of climate change in the Hunter."
Asked if the water requirements of new coalmines or coal-fired power stations may be behind the proposed dam, McKee said: "TWS does not see a case that justifies the need for Tillegra. Hunter Water Corporation's intentions for use of that water beyond residential needs are unknown to the public at this time."
McKee added: "We are about to increase our on-ground campaigning — and we won't be stopping until the Tillegra dam project is stopped permanently."