A NSW Parliamentary committee has cast doubt on the viability of two new dams slated for the state’s north, and found the benefits of one are “yet to be demonstrated.”

Key points:

  • The Dungowan and Mole River Dams were announced at the height of the drought.
  • There are concerns about the government’s decision to fast-track the planning process.
  • The committee’s recommended the government look at other ways to improve water security.

The state government has committed to build a new Dungowan Dam near Tamworth, and to dam the Mole River, west of Tenterfield in the Border Rivers region.

The projects were referred to an Upper House inquiry, which has released its final report today.

It concluded the decision to proceed with the Dungowan Dam project “was not sufficiently evidence-based.”

“These projects have been fast-tracked in a time of drought, and indeed it’s a very different time now,” said Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann, who chaired the inquiry.

The new Dungowan Dam was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Gladys Berejiklian in late 2019, when Tamworth was on level five water restrictions.

three people on the walkway of a rural dam

(left to right) NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Dungowan in October 2019.(

ABC News: Caitlin Furlong

)

“They looked like they were decisions made in the political interest, if you like, of the state government, rather than the community’s interest,” Ms Faehrmann said.

The committee has recommended the government investigate alternative sources of water for the Tamworth region, such as water recycling and managed aquifer recharge, “as a matter of urgency.”

The ABC has approached Tamworth Regional Council to respond to the inquiry’s findings.

Mole River consultation ‘inadequate’

A hearing on the Mole River project earlier this year heard shocking evidence that Aboriginal artefacts on the proposed site had been tampered with.

The committee found consultation with First Nations stakeholders has been “inadequate” and recommended the government take urgent action to improve it.

“The Mole River has high cultural significance for the Ngarabal and other First Nations people,” the report said.

Ms Faehrmann said the committee agreed with a finding in the feasibility study that the dam would only be worth the cost if irrigators in the region move toward higher-value cropping, such as almonds.

Aerial shot of the Mole River valley, natural vegetation and track down to a farm dam

The committee found the proposed dam would have a serious impact on the local Aboriginal community and its connection to the river.(

Supplied: Terry Cooke

)

“That just does not add up when the government’s justification for these dams was to ensure more water security for towns, better water security for irrigation, and you would think existing irrigation,” she said.

The final business cases for both projects are yet to be released.

Benefits of new dam ‘yet to be demonstrated’, NSW inquiry hears
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