Saving our Wetlands
Yesterday I was flown over the Lower Lachlan region by local landholder Gordon Turner. The purpose of my visit was to gain an understanding of the potential impacts of a controversial dam wall raising project being fast-tracked by the Government.
With Gordon Turner, local landholder and pilot.
Even though the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Wyangala Dam Wall Raising project is not due out until June 2021, work is set to start in October this year. Yep, you read that right. Beginning with relocating a couple of holiday parks that will be inundated by the additional 650GL of water the dam will contain.
In the coming months an Upper House Inquiry into the justification for this project, and a suite of other massive water infrastructure projects the government has fast-tracked, will begin. With no business case, no environmental impact statement and set to take a further 650GL out of the Murray-Darling basin, I’ve decided to head out west to gain a greater understanding of the environmental impacts of raising the Wyangala dam wall first hand.
In the cockpit.
I arrived at Tupra Station, about 80km north-west of Hay, yesterday and was immediately invited to sit down at the kitchen table with Gordon and a couple of other floodplain graziers as they pointed out the complexities of the floodplain wetlands system of the Lachlan catchment on a large map. Gordon, who knows this environment like the back of his hand, pointed to different bodies of water as he named numerous bird species which frequented the lakes, wetlands and swamps. Birds like the freckled duck, the pelican, eastern great egret and others. I heard how during the last major flooding event more than 100,000 Straw-necked ibises nested in one area of wetland, each nest yielding 2 to 3 chicks. These flood events are critical for these and many other water birds, including migratory species, to breed and survive.
It wasn’t until I was up in the plane that I really understood the scale and the fragility of the Lower Lachlan floodplains wetland ecosystem. If the Wyangala Dam wall is raised, natural flooding events will be reduced from an average of every 4 to 5 years, to anything from every ten years or more. Of course, a hotter climate will also make them more scarce and unpredictable.
New, or bigger dams, always have huge environmental and social consequences downstream. To hit go on such a massive project without any knowledge of the environmental implications, without exploring alternatives and without a business plan - you have to ask the question, what, or who, is this dam actually being built for?
Wetlands on the Lower Lachlan River.