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Australian Dam Project Costs Reach $1.5B

Friday, November 13, 2020

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According to reports, the cost of raising of Wyangala Dam in New South Wales, Australia, has nearly doubled due to environmental offsets requiring compensation for the project’s impacts, among other things.

While the project has yet to be granted approval, the cost of the project to raise the dam wall at the junction of the Lachlan and Abercrombie rivers has blown out from $650 million to nearly $1.5 billion.

About the Project

Completed in 1935, the Wyangala Dam was originally designed to irrigate 15,000 hectares (about 37066 acres) along the upper reaches of the Lachlan River, supply water to people and stock over an area of half a million hectares, and open up a quarter of a million hectares west of Eubalong for settle and development as wheat farms.

At the time of its original construction, the dam measured 58.8 meters (roughly 193 feet) high with a storage capacity of 374,860 megalitres and a surface area of 25.2 square kilometers (about 9.7 square miles). From 1961 to 1971, the dam was enlarged and fourfolded to increase storage capacity, in addition to the construction of a new spillway  capable of withstanding severe flooding, a road bridge over the spillway and new low level and high level outlets.

KarenHBlack / Getty Images

According to reports, the cost of raising of Wyangala Dam in New South Wales, Australia, has nearly doubled due to environmental offsets requiring compensation for the project’s impacts, among other things.

In 2009, the walls of the downstream spillway chute were raised in an effort to meet modern day safety standards and increase dam safety.

Currently, the water infrastructure measures 85 meters high, 1,370 meters in length and has the capacity to hold 1,217,000 megalitres—more than twice the amount of water in the Sydney Harbor.

Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, alongside New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced that the Morrison and Berejiklian Governments planned to deliver a $1 billion water infrastructure package for rural and regional communities impacted by droughts in New South Wales.

At the time, the Prime Minister reported that the group would deliver a $650 million upgrade of Wyangala Dam, a $480 million new Dungowan Dam, in addition to the investment of $24 million on a 50/50 basis with NSW for the 100,000-megalitre proposed Border Rivers project on the Mole River, among other projects committed to drought relief and water security.

Specifically for the Wyangala Dam, plan upgrades included raising the infrastructure’s walls, which is projected to add an additional 21.05 gigalitres per year for general security irrigation and increase the dam’s capacity by 53%, providing drought security, flood management and water reliability.

According to Lachlan Valley Water's Mary Ewing, between August and November 2016, 900,000 megaliters were released from the dam and by increasing the dam’s capacity, the area would be better equipped to handle low inflows.

"First and foremost it's about the security of town water requirements and other high priority needs, underpinning the community, and then about improving reliability for irrigators,” said Ewing.

By March of this year, Water NSW reported that field investigations on the project had commenced, with community information programs launching the following month. In May, direct landowner engagements and detailed field investigations launched.

In September, Deputy Prime Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Hon Michael McCormack announced that that Morrison-McCormack government was doubling its cash contribution for the Wyangala and Dungowan Dam projects, providing an additional $283.5 million.

“We want to deliver critical water infrastructure projects for rural and regional communities because increased water security supports growth in Australian agriculture, creating new jobs and supporting existing ones as we build greater resilience to drought and floods,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

“We know the economic road out of this pandemic relies on funding major infrastructure to support local communities and create jobs and these dam projects will do exactly that.”

That same month, engagements with landowners looked at inundation impacts and an inundation model was developed. The following month, community and stakeholders reportedly continued engagements and early work broke ground with shovels in the ground.

What’s Happening Now

Although no business cases or environmental impact statements have been completed, engineers Aurecon and KBR have been appointed as project managers and calls for tender went out in June for the raising of Wyangala Dam, all the while costs are projected to double.

The reason for the cost increase? The Guardian reports point to the project’s projected negative effects on a large area of valuable farmland and the destruction of critically endangered ecological communities, as well as downstream impacts on six important wetlands that are habitats for native and migratory birds.

The dam would also destroy a number of important Indigenous sites, which in the wake of the destruction of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto would be controversial, said Emma Carmody, the Environmental Defenders Office’s special counsel.

On the cost blow out related to these issues—which is slated to increase from $650 million to $1.5 billion—a Water NSW spokesperson said, “The proposed project to raise the Wyangala dam wall is in its early investigative and preliminary planning stages. Cost estimates will be clear once the final business case and environmental and cultural assessments are completed next year.”

Moving forward, by June 2021 the Water NSW projects that community engagement on construction will begin and that environmental impact statement will be on public display. Construction on the project is slated to begin in October 2021 and is expected to take approximately four years.


Tagged categories: Australia; Finance; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; OC; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Reservoir; Upcoming projects; Water/Wastewater

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