The New South Wales government is being accused of backing away from one of the state’s most expensive water security projects.
- A NSW government department reveals other options are being considered to improve water security
- Some claim the government is backing away from expanding Wyangala Dam
- Its business case is already pushed back until 2022
At the height of the drought, $650 million was promised to expand Wyangala Dam, near Cowra, to shore up supplies in the Lachlan River and broader Central West.
The estimated cost of the project has since risen to between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion.
The ABC can reveal the Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) is now also exploring non-infrastructure options because of the amount of rain during the past 18 months.
“These options improve our battle plan to deliver better water security for the Lachlan Valley,” a spokesperson for the DPIE said.
The ABC has been told non-infrastructure options had not been explored during the planning process for this water security project, until now.
“Up till now they’ve been direct and forceful and saying the dam’s going to go ahead, ‘we’re going to be shovel-ready’.
“It certainly does seem to be a change in direction for the government.”
Business case delayed
The business case for the expansion was due in 2021, with construction on the main dam wall to begin in 2022.
The DPIE spokesperson said the business case will now be completed next year.
“Dam projects are required to go through mandatory approvals and will be subject to an investment decision by government once the EIS [environmental impact statement] and final business case have been completed,” the spokesperson said.
Ms Slattery said she believed it was proof that the government was backing away from its commitment to expand Wyangala.
“They can delay, spend as much time developing a business case as they want, it’s just not going to stack up,” she said.
Cowra Mayor Bill West said he was disappointed by the news.
“To now start looking at non-infrastructure options, whatever that might mean, is something that is potentially creating a great deal of uncertainty within the community which is totally unreasonable and unjust,” he said.
“The government needs to clearly come out and say what they’re thinking.”
Cr West said the delay to the business case did not worry him.
“The timeline slippage doesn’t really concern me, but when they start talking about other options, and other alternatives, and non-infrastructure options when no-one really knows what that might mean, is of concern.
Dam’s volume soars
Wyangala Dam’s volume has risen significantly due to widespread rain.
In early 2020, its storage was at about 11 per cent full. It is now at 94 per cent of capacity.
Questions were previously posed about what will happen to some of the water in the dam if it’s almost full when construction begins.
“We cannot predict how much water will be in the dam if and when it is approved for construction,” the DPIE spokesperson said.
“However, obviously, this will be a consideration as part of any planning for it to be built”.
A spokesperson for NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said the government was committed to building dams and wanted to increase storage during times of good rain to prepare for drought.