Scientists tell Premier raising of Warragamba Dam wall would cause ‘irreversible damage’

Scientists, former environment ministers and conservationists  call on Premier to withdraw plans to raise the dam wall. Picture: Brendan Esposito
Scientists, former environment ministers and conservationists call on Premier to withdraw plans to raise the dam wall. Picture: Brendan Esposito

A group of 20 prominent scientists, former environment ministers and park managers have sent a letter to the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to condemn legislation to raise Warragamba Dam wall on Tuesday, October 2.

Former Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett, UNSW ecologist Professor Richard Kingsford, businessman and environmentalist Geoff Cousins and former NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus all signed the letter.

The joint letter calls on the state government to abandon its Water NSW (Warragamba Dam) Amendment Bill 2018 that is before the Parliament. 

The government legislation would amend the National Parks and Wildlife Services Act 1974, which currently prohibits dam inundation of NSW national parks.

“We call on you to withdraw the Bill from the NSW Parliament, and that plans to raise Warragamba Dam be taken off the table immediately,” the letter states.

“Raising Warragamba Dam wall would put the Australian Federal Government in clear contravention to the World Heritage Convention, and would justify placing the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area on the World Heritage in Danger List.

“These natural areas are of the highest conservation value in Australia that should be preserved at all costs.

The letter said the inundation of the area would result in “extensive and irreversible damage” to the area.

Officially, the proposal to raise the dam wall by 14 metres is a flood mitigation measure for the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, designed to protect townships downstream, including Windsor, Richmond and parts of Penrith.

Conservation groups and the Labor Party believe the government’s real motivation to increase the height of the dam wall is to allow flood-prone land in north-western Sydney to be developed.

If the proposal, which was first suggested in 2016, gets the green light then 4,700 hectares of the Blue Mountains World Heritage National Park will be inundated.

Sacred Gundungurra heritage sites and artworks would be destroyed.

One of the signatories to the letter, associate professor Jamie Pittock from the Australian National University said the state government’s strategy for managing flood risk in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley was predicated on “allowing more people to move into harm’s way”.

The assessment of flood control favours raising the Warragamba Dam wall by ignoring its environmental and social impact, and the benefits of any non-flood control alternatives,” he said.

“Management of the existing storage of Warragamba Dam, improvements to flood evacuation routes, increased flood forecasting capacity and adopting international best practice floodplain development controls are all alternatives to raising the dam wall.”

Colong Foundation for Wilderness campaign manager Harry Burkitt said support from the scientific community and general public had grown over the last fortnight. 

“Ecologists, hydrologists, archeologists, economists, urban planners and former park managers are contacting the campaign to voice their outrage about the proposal on a daily basis now,” he said.

“Raising Warragamba Dam wall would push several Australian threatened species towards extinction.

“The world heritage listed river valleys under threat protect 50% of the habitat for the most threatened woodland fauna species of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

“There are 65 kilometres of wilderness streams within the world heritage area that would be drowned by the raised dam.”