Scientists are urging that major dam projects in NSW and Queensland be abandoned, warning of significant environmental and agricultural consequences.
ANU Professor Jamie Pittock, a member of the Wentworth group of concerned scientists, will tell a conference on Wednesday the dam proposals are a waste of taxpayers money.
They include NSW government plans to expand Wyangala near Cowra and build Dungowan dam near Tamworth. While a plan for a dam at Hells Gates in Northern Queensland remains under consideration.
‘The proposal to raise Wyangala Dam is an exemplar of why these dam building projects are crazy, it was proposed without a business case,’ Professor Pittock told AAP.
Mal Carnegie says expanding Wyangala Dam is ‘potentially disastrous’ for the environment
Professor Pittock, who has studied water policy for two decades, says the proposals are ‘unjustified and ill conceived water management interventions’, and has called on the federal government to abandon them.
‘There are better ways at reducing flood risk and better ways for securing water for agriculture.’
Farmers, traditional owners, scientists and politicians have told a two-day Listening To The Lachlan conference about the impact expanding dam will have on the river.
Internationally renowned expert on Australia’s water resources Richard Kingsford also wants the projects abandoned.
The UNSW professor will tell the conference the NSW dam proposals will devastate the wetlands downstream on the Lachlan River.
‘People don’t know how magnificent places like Lake Cowal, the Great Cumbung Swamp and the Booligal wetlands are, but I’ve been surveying them for more than a decade,’ he told AAP.
‘Native fish, waterbirds, frogs, river red gums will decline in numbers across the river catchment with flow on effects across the Murray-Darling Basin.’
The professor also warns there will be major impacts on bird life like the straw-necked ibis which eats locusts.
Mal Carnegie from the Lachlan Environmental Water Advisory Group told AAP the Wyangala proposal has not adequately considered downstream water users or the environment.
‘You have to consider the bigger picture because it’s such a big impact on the whole system … It’s potentially disastrous.’
On Tuesday the head of the Lachlan Valley water group – which has advocated for the dam wall to be increased for flood mitigation and water storage – also spoke at the conference.
Mary Ewing told the gathering that crop losses from the 2016 floods were estimated at $500 million and any business case needs to be thorough.
‘We know the business case must be done, the environmental impact assessment must be done,’; she said on Tuesday.
Chair of the Lachlan Valley water group, Forbes farmer Tom Green, told AAP early studies show raising the wall is beneficial.
‘We believe the project has shown it will be highly effective for both flood management and water security,’ he said.
Mayors along the river, from the Forbes, Cowra and Lachlan shires, remain committed to raising the wall.
Forbes mayor Phyllis Miller told AAP the dam needs to go ahead.
‘To those people that raising the wall and inundating some land up in the dam catchment is an environmental problem, let them come see what a flood does,” she said.
The NSW government said money for dams is contingent on a co-funding agreement with the federal government.
‘I look forward to continuing discussions with the new federal government and receiving a commitment to funding these crucial water infrastructure projects,’ NSW Water Minister Kevin Anderson told AAP.
‘Water security is critical to the survival and the future of regional communities.’
An environmental impact statement is expected after August for the Wyangala project while work has begun on stage one of the new Dungowan Dam pipeline.
A spokesperson for the Queensland government said a detailed business case for the Hells Gates dam is due to be sent to the federal government in June.
Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek was unavailable for comment.