The government wants to raise Sydney’s main dam, Warragamba, by 14 metres. Raising the water level will endanger large sections of protected national park, inundate the Blue Mountains wild rivers, put pressure on threatened species and put Aboriginal sites at risk, so what’s the trade off? Badly needed drinking water, or extra land for development?

“Raising the Dam – It’s environmental ball tampering.”

Bob Debus

In 1978 the Hydro-Electric Commission, Tasmania, proposed to dam the Gordon River, with major potential impacts to the Franklin River and South West Tasmania’s wild rivers. Arguably the biggest environmental campaign in Australia’s history resulted, putting Tasmania in a political deadlock. Fierce campaigning saved the Franklin.

Last week the Save The Blue Mountains Wild Rivers campaign was launched in Springwood with an open forum discussing the NSW Government’s 670 million dollar plan to raise Warragamba Dam by 14 metres. Dr Bob Brown and Bob Debus AM, both environmental advocates, were the guest panellists.  

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The Kowmung River
Photo by David Noble

This Is Your Playground

Raising the dam 14 metres would inundate 65 kilometres of classified ‘Wild Rivers’, including the lower Kowmung. The Coxs, Nattai, Kedumba, Wollondilly and Little River run through wilderness areas and will also be impacted. That’s more river length than the proposed Franklin Dam–as well as 4,700 hectares of National Parks land within the UNESCO Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Impacts from inundation include biodiversity loss of up to 48 threatened plant and animal species, like the vulnerable Camden White Gum and endangered Kowmung Hakea. Inundation would also destroy over 50 recognised Aboriginal Heritage sites, on top of those the Gundungurra people already lost in the initial Burragorang Valley flooding.

For adventure-lovers, this means an enlarged exclusion zone as part of the Warragamba Special Area and the flooding of some tracks and campsites in the Wild Dog Mountains, Kedumba and Wollondilly Valleys.


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 Dam scarring – A deposition of silt from the high water mark which limits native regrowth, encouraging invasive species colonisation.

It’s Not About Drinking Water

A key message from the public forum was that raising the dam isn’t about drinking water–it’s about increasing land availability for housing development in Sydney’s flood-prone North-West. The NSW government’s Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities campaign is the government-run counter campaign; it cites the flood risk-management positives without mentioning the environmental or cultural impacts, and limits the disclosure of new development.  

At the campaign launch, Bob Brown and Bob Debus discussed the dangers of building on the floodplain, noting the limited effectiveness that increasing the Warragamba storage facility will have with significant catchment contributions from the Nepean, Grose and Colo rivers still present. Watch the discussion here.

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The Proposal – The light blue area is considered ‘flood prone’ and the magenta area is the proposed growth centre.

If It’s Priceless, It’s Worthless

Does it stack up financially? The proposed 2,355 hectares of land to be opened would be less than half of the land displaced by raising the dam, but if you can’t put a monetary value on the displaced World Heritage land, then it has no value. It would certainly be a lucrative cash grab for the government, but the safety of the land is not guaranteed, and we would bear the cost of further land degradation.

“If it’s priceless, it’s worthless”

– Dr Bob Brown

In regards to alternative measures, Bob Debus said “I’m totally in favour of any measure to improve the management of the floodplain, but that doesn’t include putting more houses in harm’s way on the floodplain.” Evacuation procedures and access roads have been upgraded, and Mr Debus would like to see more of that.

So What Can You Do?

More information on the campaign:

Wild Rivers Campaign Website

If you’ve found some cash under the mattress, running campaigns isn’t cheap! They’re halfway to their $15,000 goal at the moment.

Support The Wild Rivers Crowd Funding Effort


Spent all your dosh but still want to help? You can join the campaign and volunteer, or send an email to

The first step is awareness. Tell your mates, share the story, and let’s Save the Blue Mountains Wild Rivers!


Feature photo by David Noble

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