Water concerns attract surprise turnout of protesters to Windamere Dam

Protesters gathered at the boat ramp at Windamere Dam on Saturday with an aim to show their opposition to a plan by WaterNSW to perform bulk water transfer from Windamere Dam to Burrendong Dam in September.
Protesters gathered at the boat ramp at Windamere Dam on Saturday with an aim to show their opposition to a plan by WaterNSW to perform bulk water transfer from Windamere Dam to Burrendong Dam in September.

Approximately 80 protesters gathered at the boat ramp at Windamere Dam on Saturday with an aim to show their opposition to a plan by WaterNSW to perform bulk water transfer from Windamere Dam to Burrendong Dam in September.

Local concerns

Mid-Western Regional Councillor, Russell Holden who helped organise the gathering at Windamere says the protest is really about concerns with lowering Windamere Dam’s water level to a point where he thinks it will become dangerous for users in the area.

“In simple terms the concerns are the proposal to take the dam down to 70 gigalitres and that it will not be a satisfactory allotment for the valley in the short term,” Cr Holden said.

“Concerns would be about water quality, particularly with things like blue-green algae, and how far down you can suck the water out of the dam before the quality is at such a poor state that it requires considerably more treatment for things like the town water supply.”

While water transfer talk happens regularly, Russell says that this situation is different.

“There’s always been a discussion about whether there would be a need for it. Where this one is really hotting up is the fact that there are a record lack of inflows into the back of Burrendong currently. So they are saying that they want to take our water to supplement the water into Burrendong...they plan to take it down to 19 per cent,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the person who signs off on any changes to the water sharing plan is the minister, which makes this a political argument.

“The people in this region need to register their concerns so that when we do sit down to discuss where we’re going to go with the water sharing plan we’re not going to have this situation where the representatives from Dubbo Food and Fibre and the cotton industry are saying ‘this is the plan and everyone’s agreed on it’, we haven’t agreed on it.

“We’re actually grossly disagreeing with it, so it needs to be discussed and negotiated and at the end of the day whatever resolution there is – whether it be the two dams are operated independently or there are simply alterations to the water sharing plan that the community will accept – then that will be an agreement that state water would be a part of, that would go to the government and the minister would sign off on it.”

We’re actually grossly disagreeing with it...

Russell Holden

A view from the Macquarie Valley

Windamere Dam operates in conjunction with Burrendong Dam to supply water needs in the Macquarie Valley and as part of a nearly 20-year-old water sharing plan.

It’s worth noting that WaterNSW is within their rights as part of the water sharing plan to take the planned amount from Windamere Dam.

Macquarie River Food and Fibre executive officer Grant Tranter said their group advocates for the rights of irrigators in the Macquarie Valley about how any opposition and resulting change in the water sharing plan might affect those in the Macquarie Valley.

“At the moment there’s about 400,000 megalitres of carryover in the Macquarie/Cudgegong water sharing plan. Half of that is for consumptive use, for people like the cotton growers and the other half is the environment,” Grant said.

“So this isn’t just an issue for the cotton growers, this is an issue for the environmental water managers as well who want to deliver to deliver their environment plan to the Macquarie Marshses this year. To do so they need to transfer water from the Windamere Dam.

“Water users in the Cudgegong need to be aware that the reason Windamere is an operational dam is largely due to the water rates paid by users in the Macquarie valley. So I am aware it’s a tourism attraction for the area. But it’s essentially a water resource storage for the whole valley.”

The group of around 80 protestors at Windamere Dam on Saturday. Photo: Simone Kurtz

The group of around 80 protestors at Windamere Dam on Saturday. Photo: Simone Kurtz

Social media change

A Facebook group called ‘Hands off our water’ was created last week as a place for supporters of Windamere Dam to stay up to date on the latest news and changes to the campaign involving the water transfer.

Creator of the page, Hugh Bateman said he thought this is an issue everyone should be concerned with.

“Everybody needs to know about what’s going on, this just doesn’t concern the immediate farming communities in the Cudgegong Valley, it just doesn’t affect tourism or people that utilise the water for fishing and boating,” Hugh said.

“But it also is going to ostensibly affect ratepayers particularly in Mudgee township because once state water reduce the supply it means that we’re going to have a filtration system which is not going to be okay once the dam is at that level. You can imagine all the nasties that are going to be in the water.”

Russell Holden says he knows that we’re only nine months away from a state election and he said he’s “very confident” the National Party doesn’t want a kerfuffle in water and doesn’t want  – as Russell says he is proposing – to get between 500 and 1000 people marching down Church and Market Streets in Mudgee in September.

“If that doesn’t work, the march after that will be on Macquarie Street.” Russell said.

No further comment

WaterNSW was contacted for comment last week and release a statement stating  “water pricing in the Macquarie-Cudgegong valley is based on the total cost of operating and maintaining the two dam storages being shared by all customers. If Windamere dam was only used to supply Cudgegong valley customers, these customers would incur a significant increase in water prices.”

The release further states, “WaterNSW is working with the new Cudgegong Valley Water Security Committee to clarify the details of – and background to - the bulk water transfer arrangement, including historic usage data usage to make future projections.”

WaterNSW has declined to make any further comment.