Green Left Weekly's Zane Alcorn spoke to Sally Corbett, chairperson of the No Tillegra Dam group, which is seeking to have Hunter Water reverse their 2006 decision to build a dam comparable in size to Sydney Harbour near Dungog, about 90km out of Newcastle.
Why are people opposed to the dam?
It is unnecessary. People will pay more for their water, the project is economically, socially and environmentally devastating. Dams are old technology and there are newer, better ways to supply water more cheaply. The state government is in bad shape and Hunter Water, by going ahead with this dam, would force the state government to borrow money. There are more important priorities like education, health and transport. We predict the dam will end up costing twice the quoted price of $400 million, perhaps even up to $1 billion, in which case Hunter residents would end up paying an extra $200-$400 per year for their water.
Who is organising against the dam?
There is the No Tillegra Dam group, which includes affected land owners, business people and residents. We been campaigning since plans for the dam were announced in 2006. In May this year the Save the Williams River coalition was formed. Its supporters include the Total Environment Centre, The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservation Council, Central Coast Community Environment Network, Hunter Environment Lobby, Gosford/Wyong ratepayers association, NSW Greens, independent ecologists, water planning experts, university academics and others.
Currently almost 40% of Newcastle's water supply is from Chichester dam — how big is the proposed Tillegra dam?
The proposed dam would be twenty times the size of Chichester. It is enormous and unnecessary. An independent study by BIS Shrapnel projected current water supplies would be sufficient, even including population growth, until 2030.
What alternatives to building a dam are available?
Demand side management to balance supply and demand; currently there are no restrictions or water saving regulations on water use in the Hunter. People are still allowed to hose down their driveways and wash their cars with drinking water.
Education about water use is very important, stormwater harvesting and recycling are areas where Hunter Water performs poorly compared to other water authorities across the state. The Hunter had the lowest uptake of rainwater tanks in the state in 2007; rainwater tanks are not "the solution" however they can substantially reduce demand for mains water.
What possible other reasons for dam might there be e.g. supplying other users?
There is speculation that the dam could be to supply water to the Central Coast and Sydney but we do not have any evidence to support this and Hunter Water denies it.
However it is true to say that Hunter Water is always keen to expand its customer base.
Hunter Water supplies are linked to the Central Coast by pipeline.
There is pressure for Central Coast councils to corporatise their water supply (which they are resisting) and in this situation Hunter Water may end up taking over those authorities which would give them access to another 300,000 customers.
What actions have been taken as part of the campaign?
There has been letter writing to various ministers — first to Nathan Rees when he was Water Minister and continuing now that he is NSW premier; as well as constant letters to all other state MPs. There have been letters to the editor of the Newcastle Herald both by members of our group and by Hunter residents who are waking up to the folly (and exorbitant cost) of this project. We have waged a sustained media campaign, submitting articles to the Newcastle Herald and doing lots of interviews on 2HD and ABC radio.
We have met with National Party MP for the Upper Hunter, George Souris, NSW opposition leader Barry O'Farrell and the shadow water and environment ministers.
Greens MLC John Kaye successfully moved a "call for papers" motion on November 26. We went to Sydney to lobby opposition MPs, the Christian Democrats and the Shooters party for support, which they thankfully did. The "call to papers" is like a freedom of information request and we are expecting this will show that the Tillegra dam proposal amounts to "policy on the run" by the Iemma and Rees governments with very little rational and sensible assessment going into the decision.
John Kaye has been very active in questioning budget projections relating to the dam. We have had independent geological advice to reinforce our campaign which has shown the dam is proposed for a geologically unstable area and reinforcement of the dam could cause the cost to blow out.
The government's cost projections are largely based on surveys of the site done 50 years ago and there are many other areas where the planning for the dam is very weak. We have employed a barrister to further scrutinise the geological data used to put a price on the dam. We have attended local council meetings and local meetings put on by Hunter Water and have protested at Hunter Water offices at least 5 times over the last two years.
[The No Tillegra Dam group and Save the Williams River Coalition will be holding a rally on December 12 as part of the ongoing campaign to stop the dam being built. The rally will begin at 12noon, Wheeler Place, Civic. For more information visit