Despite Insurance Australia Group (IAG) removing their investment into the NSW Government’s Warragamba Dam Raising Project in Western Sydney, there are still major concerns the project will go ahead.
Should the project go ahead, Warragamba Dam will be raised 14 metres for flood mitigation.
The rise has the potential to inundate over 4,700 hectares of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park and destroy the last wild river in Western Sydney, the Kowmung River.
It could also see the destruction of over 1,200 culturally significant Aboriginal sites.
IAG Chair Elizabeth Bryan AM outlined the group’s opposition at their Annual General Meeting.
“In the past we have expressed support for the raising of the wall, however we now have additional information concerning the probable loss of significant cultural heritage sites and important natural habitats,” Bryan said.
IAG’s opposition to the project was welcome news for Gundungurra Traditional Owner, Kazan Brown. Brown’s family has had continual connection to Country for years, with her great grandmother being the last Aboriginal person to leave Burragorang Valley.
“It looks like local Aboriginal people walked up and left yesterday down there. There’s everything from scar trees, rock art and there’s known burials there too,” she said.
In early 2018 a panel of 22 Registered Aboriginal Parties was established for the project. This panel participated on field surveys and provided comment on the draft Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report.
Brown was not part of this panel. She was involved in only four consultation meetings and feels as though she has been locked out of the project.
“We couldn’t get on the survey team. It was like the people who had a real connection to the place were not included. It was really, really horrible,” she said.
“It’s like we have no control … we go into these meetings, and there’s no consultation. They just tell us what they’re going to do …They don’t talk with us. They talk at us.”
The Water NSW Act 2014 (NSW) was amended in 2018 with the Water NSW Amendment (Warragamba Dam) Bill 2018 (NSW) to enable the State Government to legally flood a National Park.
“This is a World Heritage listed area, it shouldn’t even be happening. But they changed the Act. That sets a precedent,” said Brown.
Colong Campaign Manager Harry Burkitt is heading the ‘Give a Dam’ campaign opposing the raising of the dam.
“The cultural assessment being undertaken for the project is simply tokenistic racist nonsense. It is being overseen by a company [SMEC Engineering] that has an international track record of destroying Indigenous cultures,” he said.
“The Premier needs to can the project and invest the money into proper flood infrastructure throughout Western Sydney as the former SES Deputy-Director General has said.
“We need evacuation routes, development controls, integrated dam management and progressive home buy-back schemes to get on top of the serious flood problems in western Sydney.”
NIT contacted WaterNSW, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney and Liberal Member for Penrith, Stuart Ayres for comment.
A NSW Government representative responded with a collective statement.
“WaterNSW is working with Government agencies and Traditional Custodians to address feedback from the review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam,” they said.
“The final decision on the dam raising proposal will only be made after all environmental, cultural, financial and planning assessments are complete.
The NSW Government spokesperson identified the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley as the most flood-exposed region in NSW.
“Research has shown the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam Raising the dam by around 14 metres was the most effective option to reduce significant risk to more than 130,000 people who live and work in the floodplain.”
In October 2019 Minister Ayres launched the Nepean Business Park project. This project is adjacent to the Penrith Lakes Scheme, which was identified by Penrith City Council in the Nepean River at Penrith Flood Study as a “major feature on the right bank floodplain”.
Questions are arising around the link between Ayres’ development and the raising of the dam.
“This is a deed of environmental destruction, of cultural destruction and destruction to the liveability of Western Sydney residents—all being done in the name of dangerous floodplain development,” said Burkitt.
With opposition against the raising of the dam slowly growing, Brown holds out hope for her Country.
“The place is full of culture. My grandfather used to call it our Vatican. The river is our creation story … all along the river there are spots,” she said.
“There is not a job that is going to make up the destruction of 40,000-year-old sites.
“I don’t want my grandkids to learn about this in a book. This needs to stop.”
By Rachael Knowles