THE heavy cost burden faced by Armidale Dumaresq Council of upgrading Armidale’s for water supply source, Dumaresq Dam, could be eased with new legislation passing through State Parliament last week, according to Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall.
Mr Marshall welcomed changes contained in the Dam Safety Bill 2015 which amends the current rigid and narrow engineering solution focus of the current regulations of the state 378 prescribed dams with a more modern, community risk management and cost-benefit analysis approach.
In the debate last week on the legislation, which received bi-partisan support, Mr Marshall was scathing in his criticism of the current NSW Dam Safety Committee and the impact its decisions were having on dam safety managers across the state.
“The Dams Safety Committee, under the current Dams Safety Act has insisted on exclusively engineering-based solutions to dam safety which has resulted in onerous and expensive upgrade works for dam managers with limited safety gains, not commensurate with the costs incurred,” Mr Marshall said.
“Councils, their communities and other dam managers have been complaining about this narrow approach for years and I’m delighted their concerns were vindicated by a review of the current regulator by an independent Commission of Audit and KPMG recently.
“Finally, some common-sense will be brought to bear, via this new legislation, to dam safety in NSW.”
Mr Marshall said that the future management of Armidale’s Dumaresq Dam – now a recreational water storage with a current maximum capacity of 380 megalitres – was a case in point.
“After many years of arguing the Dam Safety Committee requires Armidale Dumaresq Council undertake engineering works on the dam to ensure that it could withstand a one-in-100,000-year annual exceedance probability (AEP) flooding event,” he said.
“Council has argued strongly, and correctly in my view, that although it could spend $3.5 million on top-class engineering solution for Dumaresq Dam, this would do very little to resolve the flood risk issues in the community.
“A cursory glance at the various flood studies of the Armidale district shows that if we did experience a one-in-100,000 year flood event, any failure of Dumaresq Dam and the escape of 380 megalitres would be the very least of the community’s worries – we would all be floating away anyway.
“Despite this, the Dam Safety Committee believes ‘rules are rules’ and in their infinite wisdom has insisted that the dam either be fully drained or the council spend millions to add metres and metres to the dam wall to build a stronger buttress.”
Mr Marshall said the new legislation would negate the need to solve a flood risk with a strictly engineering solution and ensure that the frustrations of Armidale Dumaresq Council with regard to Dumaresq Dam were not repeated.
“This legislation will force the new Dams Safety NSW to look at a full cost-benefit analysis when recommending safety measures for dams and will also ensure a mix of people with expertise are part of the merit-based board, including dam managers and people with emergency management experience,” he said.
Mr Marshall told Parliament that he encouraged Armidale Dumaresq Council to continue to “drag its heals” on implementing the onerous requirements of the current Dams Safety Committee.
“When the new legislation is fully implemented we should have a review of the Dams Safety Committee requirements to ensure a common-sense solution, with reduced costs and a greater community safety benefit in a major flooding event can be achieved,” he said.