Article – Government to take another look at northern dams

28 March 2014
Anna Vidot
ABC Rural

PHOTO: The Ord Stage 2 scheme in northern WA. (Tyne McConnon)

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will lead a ministerial taskforce, investigating options for new and bigger dams.
Also sitting on the taskforce are Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Parliamentary Secretary Simon Birmingham, and the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Jamie Briggs.
It’s the latest in a number of taskforces to investigate the potential for significant dam construction and irrigation development in northern Australia, in particular.
The Coalition last looked at options for northern dam development in 2011-12, when the then Opposition’s dams and water management taskforce came up with a list of 100 potential projects.
Mr Joyce was deputy chair of that taskforce and was a key contributor to the report it produced.
He says this latest study will build on that.
“Doing a taskforce before an election has one vital deficiency: you’re not in government,” Mr Joyce said.
“Now we are in government, I’ll be picking up that report straight away and making sure that that’s a large part of exactly what we do.
“We have the Treasurer today talking about the recycling of capital. One of the most effective forms of recycling of capital is in water infrastructure, because water is wealth.”
Previous reports, such as one completed by the Northern Land and Water Taskforce in 2010, have found that at least some proposed northern dams aren’t feasible.
Mr Joyce rejects that, however.
“I disagree with some of the issues that CSIRO have reported in the past, that you couldn’t have any more irrigation capacity, because it was manipulated by the [then Labor] government in such a way as the report was confounded.
“It had to come out with that sort of recommendation because the government put so many caveats on things that you weren’t allowed to do,” he said.
“[Looking at] some of those environmental questions; we have Ramsar wetlands around Lake Argyle [in Western Australia’s Kimberley region] which is there by reason of the dam being there.
“If we look at the flow rate in many rivers, that’s attributable to the fact that we’ve got storage of water capacity upstream, otherwise a lot of these rivers would be predominantly dry through the year.
“So unless people say there’s an environmental benefit in being dry, then a dam is one of the greatest reasons to bring about an environmental benefit and an economic benefit.”
Courtesy of ABC Rural