The NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC) says that up to 1000 hectares of world heritage area and 3700 hectares of national park will be inundated for up to two weeks by raising Warragamba Dam wall.
The NCC is very concerned about 58 threatened species within the area already impacted by recent bushfires including the koala, critically-endangered regent honeyeater, greater glider, broad-headed snake, brushtail rock wallaby, eucalyptus benthamii and eucalyptus glaucina.
In January 2020 the World Heritage Centre asked the Commonwealth Government to provide an update on the state of conservation of the Blue Mountains heritage area after more than 80 per cent was ravaged by fire last summer.
In response, the Commonwealth Government said Water NSW would re-assess bushfire impacts and include them in the pending environmental impact statement (EIS). However, to date the draft EIS states Water NSW has no intention of re-assessing the area impacted by fire.
Ornithologist Martin Schulz said last summer’s Green Wattle Creek blaze burnt most of the southern Blue Mountains leaving only a small unburnt section which will likely be flooded by the Dam. “The ecosystems are different and parts will be in recovery for decades. How can an assessment done before the fires be valid? Dr Schulz asked. The fires changed so many things,” he said.
The draft EIS shows before the bushfires only 15 hours of spotlight searches were conducted for the koala, greater glider and squirrel glider in the inundation area, despite a 61 hour recommendation. Dr Schulz says this is “bafflingly low” especially for koalas given the area is so vast and how hard they are to find.
The time spent gathering sample collections of the squirrel glider and brush-tailed phascogale also didn’t meet the guidelines with only 1820 nights completed but 3224 nights recommended. The assessment of the large-eared pied bat was 11 times less the suggested amount with traps laid for 78 nights yet 864 recommended. “The low survey effort for the large-eared pied bat is particularly disappointing,” Dr Schulz said.
Community group Give a Dam spokesman Harry Burkitt has called on the Federal Government to intervene.
“The barrow-loads of leaked material now in the public domain show (Western Sydney) Minister Stuart Ayres and Infrastructure NSW haven’t even bothered following NSW guidelines, let alone those required under federal law or by UNESCO,” he said.
Infrastructure NSW, which oversees the project, says feedback from state and federal governments on the draft EIS is important in developing the final version. “The final decision on the dam raising proposal will only be made after all environmental, cultural, financial and planning assessments are complete,” a spokeswoman said.
The World Heritage Committee, which selects sites for UNESCO’s world heritage list, has expressed concerns over the project and will review the EIS before the Federal Government’s decision.