Thursday, 6 September 2012

NSWLC Standing Committee On State Development's Inquiry Into The Adequacy Of Water Storages In NSW, 20 August 2012 hearing

The Play:

The future of water storage in New South Wales

The Sub-Plot:

That National Party fixation with the Clarence River

The Scene:

Enter from stage right NSW Nationals MLC PETER R. PHELPS. Followed by DAVID ANDREW HARRISS, Commissioner, NSW Office of Water, Department of Primary Industries and, STEWART RICHARD WEBSTER, Principal Director, Investment Appraisal, Statistical Analysis and Economic Research, NSW Trade and Investment

From the hearing transcript:

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Are there any rivers in northern New South Wales which sow significant outflows of fresh water to the sea which could be used for damming purposes?

Mr HARRISS: The only one that has been investigated over many years was the Clarence River and that has been shown that it would be both uneconomic and have significant environmental impacts as a consequence. One of the things that have been demonstrated for years is coastal diversions. It is all right in the Snarly because you have quite a substantial catchment area and you have a number of sites for dams—Jindabyne, Eucumbene, Talbingo, Bowen. In the coastal ranges further north around the Clarence to get that catchment area to fill the dam you have to have the dam located further down to get enough water so it cannot be at the top. Further down you locate that dam, the higher the pumping cost to get the water back over the top or the tunnelling cost to get it through the dam. For that reason it has shown that it would not be economically beneficial to construct a dam to divert water from the coastal side into the western side because there would be no activity currently which would generate revenue on the megalitre of water……..

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Presumably, given what Mr Harriss said earlier about us having dammed every river in New South Wales that it is economically viable to dam, those proposals would be only catchment augmentation.

Mr WEBSTER: What was economically viable 30 years ago might not be now because the value of water changes as an input into various primary production processes. While it appears that the large storage sites have been taken, there may be opportunities.

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: Just not on the Clarence River.

Mr HARRISS: There are opportunities on the Clarence River. What was proposed during the drought—and Malcolm Turnbull promoted it—was to build that dam but then to pipe the water up to south-west Queensland, not to move it into western New South Wales, which was the original proposal. That might have been a bit more economically viable if we were recovering the cost through urban population charges as opposed to the rate charged per kilolitre. However, Queensland was not remotely interested in that. There are some sites, and we mentioned Birrell Creek dam, which is not a big site. There is also the Welcome Reef site near Braidwood. That proposal has been around for about 40 or 50 years. There are some sites. However, the point was made that where it was easy to build a dam 50 or 60—

The Hon. Dr PETER PHELPS: So the low hanging fruit is gone.


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