The Murray-Darling Basin is suffering a drought, so politicians are talking dams. The Prime Minister claims credit for building many new dams, but most of these dams are not dams at all. The Water Minister says “bugger all” is being done to build dams and blames the states. The Opposition Leader claims “not one” dam has been built in six years.
Yet anyone who drives the Hay-Griffith road in the NSW Murrumbidgee Valley can see at least ten large, recently constructed dams. Some of these featured on ABC’s Four Corners. No precise numbers of new dams exist, but from data provided to the Senate it appears that at least 20 to 30 large dams have been constructed in recent years.
With so many new dams around, why are politicians reluctant to talk about them?
The answer is perhaps that the recently constructed dams in the Murray-Darling Basin do not help drought-stricken towns, struggling small irrigators or the wider public. They are built with taxpayer money on private land mainly for the benefit of large corporate agribusiness like Webster Limited.
New public dams would be subject to public consultation, including with stakeholders critical of the environmental and economic merits of such projects. By contrast, private dams receive minimal public consultation and can be approved and constructed based on environmental assessments commissioned from private consultants by dam proponents.
There is very little information about Australia’s new private dams. There is no public information on how many there are, how much water they hold or how much they cost taxpayers, despite Senate requests for this information. From publicly available information, it appears that just two of these dams cost taxpayers nearly $30 million. Over $200 million was spent on dam-related projects according to official data, although not all of this will have been specifically on dams.