Meander Valley Dam - Daniel Hackett
The proposed Meander Valley dam is one of many environmental issues currently facing Tasmanians. Despite its high profile there are still a lot of questions many Tasmanians have regarding the proposed dam and what it might create. In relation to fishing many of us ask will it be a new fishery, will it make or break the river, do we need another dam? On the 20th of May, Tasmanian Fishing and Boating News invited a number of stakeholder groups to submit their respective comments and/or opinions on the proposal. It was great to see the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment, the Tasmanian Greens and The Tasmanian Conservation Trust happy to provide their opinion for Tasmanian Fishing and Boating News readers.
Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment - Scott Marston, Manager Water Development Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.
The Meander Dam proposal has been identified as a high priority water development project capable of reliably supplying 24,000ML of irrigation water annually. This has the potential to significantly increase agricultural production in the Meander Valley. In addition to the agricultural benefits the Meander Dam will also have many economic, social and environmental benefits for the region. Most importantly, they include the ability to restore the Meander River to a healthy state without having to severely restrict current extractions of irrigation water, with a related decrease in farm productivity.Without the dam, there would be little choice but to impose further irrigation restrictions for the sake of the river's future. The development of the dam would enable reliable environmental flows to be provided down the river which would benefit the macro-invertebrate and other aquatic life in the river. The greatest benefit of the dam however is its potential to provide a marked economic and social stimulus for the Meander Valley region. The major limitation to the expansion of agriculture in the area is the lack of additional supplies of water for irrigation. As well as the boost the proposed dam would bring to agriculture in the area, through the reliable supply of irrigation water, there would be flow-on effects to the local economy from increased agriculture growth. The proposal has been through an extensive and rigorous assessment process, which involved the feasibility of the dam being considered in three studies. The three feasibility studies, which looked at environmental, engineering and economic/agricultural aspects then formed the basis of the Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan, which was submitted for assessment.
State approval for the dam under the Water Management Act and the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act was received in October 2002. The proposal was also approved by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Public Works. Following the negative determination by the Resource Management Planning Appeal Tribunal, the State Government introduced enabling legislation into the Parliament for the proposal. The Government's action was in recognition of the strong community support for the project and of its confidence that progressing the project was in the public interest. The legislation was passed by Parliament, providing State level approval for the dam to proceed.
The final stage of the process will be the Commonwealth making a determination on the proposal under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This is required due to the presence of species listed as threatened (Spotted tailed Quoll and the South Esk heath plant). The State approvals require mitigation strategies to be put in place to protect these species and the Commonwealth Government will consider whether these strategies are suitable. Although the principal aim of the project is to provide a reliable water supply to the Meander Valley area, it will also have many spin-off benefits. The provision of environmental flows down the river will assist in improving the health of the river system and bring benefits to recreational users. The dam will also improve drinking water quality for the residents of the Meander Valley. Currently the river system is often stressed by low stream flows during summer. By having a dam, which can provide environmental flows to the system as well as irrigation and town water supplies, river health will be a beneficiary of the project. The dam itself will also provide recreational opportunities for fishing and other activities. Environmental flows in the river system will be measured at a number of points throughout the river system to ensure flow decisions take into account the environmental demands as well as the agricultural demands. A number of feasibility studies on the proposal have been undertaken to ensure that the proposal for a dam on the Meander below Warners Creek was not just the most viable option but also the best option. These feasibility studies have taken into account environmental issues, engineering issues and economic and agricultural aspects. In addition, detailed studies have shown that there is no opportunity to construct smaller farm dams to provide irrigation water to enable the
expansion of agriculture that will follow the construction of the Meander Dam.
The impoundment will be supplied by a number of small headwater streams that contain good numbers of small brown trout. Consequently, it's likely that trout will become established in significant numbers, although in general, the size of trout should be small.
The Tasmanian Greens - Kim Booth
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Meander Dam.
Briefly, my position, and that of the Tasmanian Greens is as follows.
Tasmania has possibly one of the best planning systems in the world. The RMPS system is there to take political expediency and corruption out of the planning process. It is a system that when triggered for appeal acts as an independent adjudicator and is vital to ensure the integrity of the planning system The Meander Dam application never considered any other user groups other than irrigators.
Environmental flows, recreation and flood mitigation were all used by the proponents to dress up what was essentially a Stone Age proposal. The first and only time that the dam proposal was exposed to a proper, public and impartial assessment was when the RMPAT tribunal set aside the approvals given. In my view that decision was correct. It found against the dam on economic and environmental reasons. It is interesting to note that the cost of environmental damage was not factored in, which as the Murray Darling experience has shown, can amount to an enormous burden on future generations.
In my view the proposal should have taken in the views and needs of fishing, recreational users, tourism and riverine ecology. None of these was considered. All Tasmanians have an interest in all of the above, but in terms of your groups specific interests are concerned, I make the following points. The Meander River, particularly where the dam is sited, is a relatively pristine environment. It provides outstanding fly fishing opportunities, and is accessible to many people. The dam, being an irrigation dam will be largely empty in summer, with large areas exposed as mudflats. It will not be a fishery.
The riverine ecology will be altered and damaged by the release and flooding of colder water into the below dam areas. Apart from the obvious danger to fishermen downstream, this will alter the food chain and habitat for the trout, and may well affect breeding etc. Downstream riverbed scouring and bank erosion will also occur due to the changes in river flows and sediment replacement.
The best way of managing water resources for irrigation is to
1. Install water meters on all irrigators to determine demand.
2. Charge an economic price for water to encourage proper use, and to test viability of cropping
at full cost attribution.
3. Encourage on farm water storage options (identified in the Hocking Report as the most
4. Promote Tasmanian Clean, Green and GE Free, high value farm produce, which are grown
within the environmental capacity of the area.
The Greens believe that we can have irrigated land and keep our rivers flowing freely. It is a matter of encouraging on farm water storage, responsible water management and realising that there is a need and a responsibility for environmental flows in our river systems. We want to see the Meander River remain a living river. A river rich in life and opportunity for all.
Hope this is useful to your readers and thank you for the opportunity to contribute. Please contact me if you have any areas of concern, at any time.
Regards Kim Booth
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust - Craig Woodfield
The Meander Dam is effectively a multi-million dollar subsidy to irrigators in the Meander Valley. It is proposed that $7 million will be poured into this proposal at little or no return. If only the 40 irrigators with river frontage end up purchasing water, this would represent a subsidy of $175,000 to each of those 40 operations. The question that should be asked is: why should irrigators in the Meander Valley and not elsewhere in Tasmania be subsidised in such a blatant and unfair manner?
It is alleged that the dam will be of benefit to the wider community through the provision of environmental flows for the Meander River without an associated reduction in water allocation for irrigation. This is absolute nonsense. The Great Forester Catchment Water Management Plan is on the verge of being approved, having been developed with the input of the local community. No large dam was required for this to occur, despite the increased provision of environmental flows in the catchment being a key component of this plan.
'Marsupial sinks dam" & Bryan Green sinks planning system
The above headline, on the font page of The Advocate on January 24, announced that we had comprehensively won our appeal against the approval of the proposed Meander Dam. The Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal ruled unequivocally in favour of the TCT, supporting all of our four grounds of appeal and overturning the original approval. This was a major victory not only for sustainable development in Tasmania, but also for our planning system, which has clearly demonstrated its robustness. And this was a massive defeat for the State Government and the Water Development Plan, and the man who promoted the Meander Dam in the face of all criticism for almost two years, Jeff Gilmore. Jeff has recently been promoted to the position of Assistant Secretary, DPIWE, the second most senior position with that Department.
Unfortunately, Bryan Green, the Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment, was not prepared to accept the umpires decision, and 12 days after the Tribunal decision was handed down announced that the Government would introduce enabling legislation to allow the dam to proceed. This was a stunning decision, and a sign that this Minister regards our resource management and planning system with contempt. The precedent that has been set is frightening, as all future large infrastructure projects may now be effectively exempt from the planning system.
The TCT appeal dealt specifically with the failure of the proponent and of the two assessing bodies (the Assessment Committee for Dam Construction and the Board of Environmental Management and Pollution Control) to properly assess the impacts of the proposal on spotted tailed quoll and the South Esk heath sub-species Epacris aff. exserta, as well as the failure to propose adequate mitigation measures for these impacts. The TCT also entered into discussions on the economic viability of the proposal, as this was used as justification for impacts on the
Epacris in the Environmental Protection Notice. Indeed, as we discovered at the hearing, the proponent had decided to pitch their entire case as a simple matter of economic benefit versus environmental impacts.Naomi Edwards presented economic and financial evidence on behalf of the TCT, including what we would argue to be a much more realistic appraisal of the economic potential of this proposal. Whilst the proponent argued that the dam would produce a $39 million economic gain, Ms. Edward's analysis indicate that the economic output of the dam would be actually less than zero. The proponent offered no expert evidence on the environmental impacts, and concentrated solely on the alleged economic benefit of the proposal.
The weight of expert evidence provided by the TCT obviously found favour with the Tribunal.
The 11 page decision is literally packed full of criticism of the Meander Dam proposal. The Tribunal formed the opinion that the true economic value was not as high as the proponent has suggested, and was in all likelihood somewhere between the two models presented. The Tribunal also found that the impacts on spotted tailed quoll were likely to be more significant than the proponent claimed, but needed further work to be substantiated. The proposed mitigation measures were also questionable. Impacts on the Epacris were undoubtedly significant, and the Tribunal stated that it appeared that "no way was apparent of avoiding or even substantially
mitigating those impacts". The final conclusion of the Tribunal was as follows:"Upon the present state of evidence the Tribunal is satisfied that the certain and further likely
environmental harm arising from construction of and the existence of the dam, clearly outweigh the less certain benefits. The Tribunal is satisfied that the proper decision is to refuse a permit for the dam."
As well as confirming all our concerns with this proposal, this decision should provide a warning for the assessment of the other three large dam proposals that it is currently assessing. Of these three, there is no doubt that there are significant environmental impacts associated with the Boobyalla River Dam (part of the Waterhouse scheme in the northeast). Not enough information is available so far about the other two active large dam proposals, at Christian Marsh in the
Southern Midlands and on the Elizabeth River near Campbell Town, to make an assessment of
their potential impacts.
As this goes to print, we are investigating our options and working hard to make sure that our position, and the issues associated with this dam, are clearly and unambiguously available to the Commonwealth. We also remain engaged with the National Competition Council, who will effectively be the final arbiters on this matter. They have always represented the best opportunity to see this proposal off. It is unfortunate that they are also the last link in the chain. The simple facts of this matter, that the Meander Dam is neither environmentally sustainable or economically viable, have not changed, whatever dirty tricks the Government might try.
The Meander Valley Council, Hydro Tasmania, the Inland Fisheries Service, the Tasmanian
Farmers and Graziers Association and the Liberal Party were all contacted. All had no comment.