The raising of the Wyangala dam wall near Cowra is the centrepiece of the NSW government’s water infrastructure plans.
Thanks to its classification as Critical State Significant Infrastructure, the project has been fast-tracked. Preliminary works have begun without either a business case or an environmental impact assessment for a project that is expected to capture a combined 770 gigalitres from the Murray-Darling basin. And without a business case, there is no final cost for the project. Taxpayers are already on the hook for $1.5 billion, with the costs having blown out from an initial $650 million.
The Wyangala Dam wall raising was announced in October last year. Other planned water projects including building a new dam at Dungowan, near Tamworth, an upgrade of Gin Gin Weir, west of Dubbo in the Macquarie Valley, and the construction of a dam at Mole River near the Queensland border.
While NSW’s Water Minister Melinda Pavey says the Wyangala Dam project centred on providing security for town water supplies, a water expert with the Australia Institute said it was “quite disingenous to be talking about town water security when in the Lachlan Valley, for example, a really major consumer of water is gold mining”.
At the first public hearing of the NSW parliamentary committee looking into the justification for building and expanding dams in rural NSW, the Australia Institute’s Maryanne Slattery said:
“You really have to look at the gold mines in that valley and their water needs and their plans for expansion. It seems to be code to be talking about town water supply and industry, when really it seems to be about water for mining.”
Meanwhile, just over the hills from Wyangala in the Belubula River Catchment area, which feeds the Kalari River, the NSW Government announced in November last year $1 million to complete a feasibility study to extend Lake Rowlands, either by raising the height of the lake’s wall or to build a bigger dam downstream. Also under way is a plan for a pipeline between Lake Rowlands Dam and Carcoar Dam.
While the funding was billed as part of the government’s emergency response to the drought in regional NSW, the general manager for Central Tablelands Water Gavin Rhodes told the local newspaper:
“It will also allow us to increase industry and growth in the region.”
Plans are also sitting there for at least one gold mine in this area – Regis Resources’ McPhillamys Project. The company spent a lot of money trying to get Bathurst Council to supply them with wastewater but that fell over around 2016. The council decided the water was too precious and it should be recycled and kept for the town and the Macquarie River. It turned out a prescient decision when drought hit and Bathurst locals started worrying about where they were even going to get drinking water.
Regis Resources next plan was to build a pipeline to access the wastewater from a coal mine near Lithgow. While the pipeline…