Hawkesbury River

What are the facts about raising Warragamba Dam?

In any given year, what are the risks of your house burning down, you getting sick, or you crashing your car?

Low, I hope. These events have a low probability, but serious consequences. So we weigh the risk, and take out insurance.

So it is with our floodplain. There have been 124 floods in the Hawkesbury-Nepean since the 1790s. We had one this year (a baby -- between 1:5 and 1:10 probability), and worse ones are a statistical inevitability.

The NSW Government 2017 report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities says that the damage of a bad flood could be between $5 billion and $7 billion dollars, considering that 134,000 people live and trade on the floodplain.

In a bad flood, 90,000 of those people would need to be evacuated. 12,000 homes would be inundated.

The report also says that this risk could be reduced by 75% if Warragamba Dam is raised by 15 meters, saving lives and slashing $5 billion from the damage bill. A wise investment, I think.

The cost would be that, in those rare rainfall events, a fringe of land around the current high waterline of Lake Burragorang would be subjected to temporary inundation, amounting to 0.04-0.05% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Crucially, preliminary modelling suggests the most sensitive areas of the catchment, like the Kowmung River and its tributaries, would not be affected at all.

There is a lot of misinformation put about concerning the Warragamba Dam raising project. That it's a stalking horse for development on the floodplain. That it will ruin a world heritage site. That it's about increasing Sydney's water supply.

These claims are not true -- even though these issues are important. The project is about protecting life and property. I observe that most people who are opposed to the project don't live on the floodplain. They live elsewhere, high and dry. They endure no risk to themselves, their families, or property. They are entitled to their views, but have no stake in the outcome.

The attached video is an interview I did recently when I was approached by someone doing some academic research from my alma mater, the University of Sydney. I summarise many of the points I frequently make about the project, and Hawkesbury Council's attitude towards it.

I've written about this subject many times before:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2019/07/04/interviewed-on-abc-sydney-radio-about-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/04/06/hawkesbury-council-should-support-the-raising-of-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/03/27/appearing-on-the-abc-news-about-raising-warragamba-dam/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/2018/04/11/425/
https://councillorzamprogno.info/a-map-of-the-hawkesbury-nepean-river-and-its-tributaries-and-catchment-boundary/

On the opening of the new Windsor Bridge

I was privileged to have a sneak peak of the new bridge before it opened with Robyn Preston MP

The new Windsor bridge opened to traffic this weekend. This is a major milestone, and the project has dominated local politics for a decade.

After so much Ill-feeling and unnecessary delay, I think this is a project the whole community should be proud of, and I say this as a local representative who felt very much caught in the middle by those passionately advocating for and against.

I didn’t entirely agree with those who thought of this project as a rape of Windsor’s heritage. But I did agree that building a replacement bridge in the same location condemned a very historic square to another century of heavy traffic, when it offered a wonderful opportunity to build a bypass. I said then and still say that this was a missed opportunity.

"Slated for demolition"... except it never was.

I also disagreed strongly with those who put out misinformation — saying for example that heritage buildings around Thompson square were “scheduled for demolition” when they never were, and the protesters knew that. They also said that historic brick barrel drains that had been covered up over a century would be destroyed, when in fact the project afforded the chance to do some unique archeology and then cover them back up, just like they have been all this time. We now have a documentary record and a host of artefacts we never would have otherwise had. Piers for the new bridge were moved so that they didn’t disturb the drains. 

Some wonderful archeology was uncovered by the project, which never would have been investigated otherwise.

Nor did I see overwhelming merit in retaining a narrow, inadequate bridge whose visible structure was an ugly concrete deck added in 1924. The oldest part of the bridge, best able to be described as having heritage value, were the iron pillars driven into the river bedrock in 1874 — some of which will be retained in the construction of a viewing platform (which the protesters opposed!) 
These things inflamed passions and tested friendships needlessly.

Of course, any protest started by people who care deeply about heritage or local amenity also attract carpetbaggers — people who care less about the issue, but who beadily seized an opportunity to create political friction for their own ends.

For years, I saw protests in Thompson Square with unsavoury types loitering around the edges — leather clad union thugs, federal politicians who had nothing to do with the project, Greens activists, even the late Jack Mundey, former BLF tsar and Communist Party candidate (but otherwise the saviour of The Rocks — see, people aren’t all bad).

It became a circus. At the last election, at least three people gained election to Hawkesbury Council on the back of this tide of protest, only to spend the last four years sticking their heads in the sand, opposing reasonable collaboration between Council and the RMS, and almost guaranteeing that the community input they sought election on would rarely reach the right ears. It’s been very frustrating. 
I think many people who genuinely care about heritage have been used.

It’s worth noting that today's opening of the new bridge isn’t the end of the project. I’m hopeful that the completed landscaping will reunite the sundered halves of Thompson Square caused by the cutting dug in 1934, greatly expanding the useful space to the public, and underlining that Thompson Square has been a changing and evolving space since the beginning.

The opening of the old bridge, 4th November, 1874. This bridge shares only certain elements with the present structure. The whole top deck was replaced in 1920.

I’m confident that once everyone sees the completed project, people will reconsider whether all the noise and hand-wringing were worth it.

Hawkesbury, enjoy your new bridge. Maybe your great-great grandchildren will fight to preserve it as a piece of the area’s heritage in 2166, the year in which it will be as old as the current bridge retired at. 

This video, courtesy of Robyn Preston MP - Member for Hawkesbury is a fascinating record of the bridge's construction.


Interviewed on ABC Sydney Radio about Warragamba Dam

Overnight, former Labor politician Bob Debus addressed a gathering of UNESCO in Baku, Azerbaijan, to seek their support in opposing the raising of Warragamba Dam.

This morning, ABC Sydney Radio asked to interview me to provide a response.

Here's the audio. I repeat the argument I've made many, many, many, many, many times before.

 


Funding for a new crossing of the Hawkesbury River

 

The North Richmond Bridge, built 1905. Photo: The author

June 7th 2021 Update: This morning the Prime Minister and the Premier announced that funding for this project has been lifted to $500 million. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the new bridge will be 6m higher than the current bridge. The funding will be 80% from the Federal Government and 20% from the NSW Government. This is tremendously good news, along with confirmation that the project will not dump traffic into the already-congested heart of North Richmond but rather bypass North Richmond and join Bells Line of Road at Crooked Lane. This map has been circulating this morning as a preferred (note: not final) route.

I note that Susan Templeman the Labor Federal MP has chimed in pre-emptively this morning to claim credit for this announcement. I thought my remarks on that question I made two years ago remain just as relevant today.

Original 2-4-2019 post:

Yesterday, the Federal Liberal government committed $200 million to build a new road crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

This is tremendously exciting news, but some commentary I've seen is misleading about about who to thank and where we go from here.

The need for traffic congestion relief for residents west of the river has been understood and acknowledged for years. A walk through the timeline will be instructive.

In 2011, the newly elected Liberal State government commissioned a study, which delivered its "Long Term Options Report" in September 2012 and canvassed a number of options. These included:

  • Amplifying the current bridge to three lanes and employing a contraflow arrangement morning and evening.
  • Constructing a new two-lane bridge immediately downstream to provide an extra two lanes, either at the same level as the current bridge, or somewhat further downstream and at a higher level to provide 1:20yr flood immunity.

Each of these options would ultimately increase traffic through both Richmond and North Richmond and would require substantial amplification to roadworks between the Bosworth St intersection in Richmond, and the Grose Vale Road intersection in North Richmond.

In 2011, the then Labor Federal government pledged a paltry $2M -- money that did not appear in the budget or the forward estimates until 2015. The then Liberal Macquarie MP Louise Markus drew attention to this, saying

"(It's) another empty promise that may never eventuate. Heavy peak traffic on Grose Vale Road, Terrace Road and Bells Line of Road leading down towards the M7 causes significant congestion around the Richmond bridge. It takes sometimes more than an hour for people, once they reach North Richmond, to cross the bridge to Richmond on the way to work, and the same can happen in the evening."

By August 2014, the Federal Liberal-National government was in position to advance the issue. Louise Markus told the House of Reps:

The provision of safer, more efficient roads to regional Australia is a priority of this government. One such issue needing to be addressed was the Richmond Bridge ... This bridge has experienced significant increased traffic pressure over recent years. Labor failed to deliver on this committed project, but I have fought to see Richmond and North Richmond receive the approved infrastructure that the community deserves. 

For several years, planning by the federal government and the New South Wales coalition government has been underway to cater for increased traffic around the Richmond Bridge. The city-centric previous Labor government short-changed regional Australia by cutting $500 million in regional funding. I am pleased to acknowledge the coalition government has committed $18 million of total funding for the Richmond Bridge and its approaches from 2013-14 through to 2018-19.

Meanwhile, the State Liberal Government got on with the job of using these funds to improve a range of issues affecting traffic flow along Bells Line of Road, with this graphic from an October 2018 RMS newsletter showing the works around the intersection, but which does not show extensive improvements at the intersection of Old Kurrajong Rd / Yarramundi Lane.

By the 2018 State Budget, our local MP and State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was able to pledge $25 million dollars of State money to do detailed planning for a new river crossing ($7m of which was in the 2018-2019 FY). This is what proper collaboration between State and Federal governments looks like.

I am agnostic on the question of whether the bridge should be a straight duplication of the current bridge, or should be located elsewhere. I’m wary of increasing congestion in North Richmond and Richmond. Council is in the process of finalising a detailed Regional Traffic Study. The process of choosing a site for the bridge and the support roads that will lead to it should be data-driven, as well as acutely mindful of the effects on our heritage towns.

Against this backdrop, the only missing piece, and by far the largest one, was funding for the bridge itself. And it's arrived.

When the announcement was made yesterday, you should realise it has come off the back of a decade of advocacy from Liberal representatives -- Local, State and Federal, as well as a lot of dedicated members of the community.

State Pols

Building the roads and rail of the future helped Premier Gladys Berejiklian to be re-elected and today the Prime Minister is hoping to copy her vote-winning strategy. #9News | http://9News.com.au

Posted by 9 News Sydney on Monday, 1 April 2019

All your Local Liberal Councillors have advocated for the funding for an extra crossing -- especially Sarah Richards, now the Federal Candidate for Macquarie, who has knocked on the door of the State and Federal government doggedly.

These kinds of infrastructure projects are possible when governments balance their budgets and grow the economy. No one argues that they are necessary, but it takes years of planning.

So how did Labor react, after years of neglect on infrastructure? They fell over themselves to say they would match the funding.

It's galling to see this portrayed as some kind of Labor funding announcement, or something that has come as the result of Labor's careful planning for infrastructure and thrift. It's not. And I'll bet that the $200 million dollar commitment is as unfunded and ephemeral as other announcements they have made over the years. Under the last Labor government in NSW, they had six transport ministers, nine transport plans, announced a dozen new railway lines and delivered just one -- the Airport line -- the contract for which was inked under the previous Liberal administration.

Susan Templeman, and Labor generally, deserve no credit for this fantastic announcement. This has come off the back of Liberal advocacy, and Liberal budgetary management. $200 million dollars doesn't fall out of the air, and saying "me too" in its wake with no sign it was ever costed by Labor doesn't represent leadership.

 


Hawkesbury Council fails a test of leadership on flood safety

I am disappointed that Council last night reversed the position it has held for decades, and declined to reaffirm its support for raising Warragamba Dam to provide flood mitigation to our valley, through the Notice of Motion I brought to the chamber.

As I said last night, this issue is too important for it not to have bi-partisan support.

The Mayor of the Hawkesbury, Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett voted against the motion.

In my opinion, the Mayor's position as the chair of Council's Flood Risk Advisory Committee is now untenable. In September last year, Council ratified new terms of reference and objectives of that committee, which specifically includes advocating for the flood mitigation strategies contained in the Hawkesbury Nepean Floodplain Review Taskforce report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities, 'in partnership with relevant state agencies and stakeholders.'

That report's signature capital flood mitigation initiative is raising Warragamba dam.

If the Mayor is unable to support the Committee's objectives and show the leadership her predecessors offered on flood mitigation, then she cannot be its chair and she should resign from that committee.

Joint Media release - Flood Mitigation

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Hawkesbury Council should support the raising of Warragamba Dam

Warragamba Dam in 1960
Warragamba Dam in 1960

Update: The result of the motion I put to Council is recounted here.

Only last year, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the worst flood since European settlement in the Hawkesbury district. We were reminded that, back in June 1867, an inland sea of swirling detritus 30km wide stretched from Riverstone to the foot of the Blue Mountains --  the result of only four days of rain. The survivors in Windsor inhabited a shrinking island, huddled in St Matthews Church. Wearily, they grieved over the news of the drowning of 12 members from the one family, the Eathers, barely a mile away at Cornwallis. Past the mouth of the river, the beaches from Barrenjoey to Long Reef were black with uprooted trees and bloated livestock. Of course, many of the dead were never found.

Many people are unaware that the construction of Warragamba Dam in 1960 confers little in the way of flood protection to the communities downstream. The whole capacity of the dam is for drinking water storage. In the event of a rain event, there is no "buffer" to absorb flood waters in the dam and moderate its release, reducing the frequency and severity of flooding on the floodplain.

Recognising this, there have been thwarted plans to augment Warragamba since the 1980s by raising the dam wall, and we should welcome the State Government's June 2016 commitment to a $700 million program to finally raise the dam by another 14 meters, giving it that crucial buffer. It is clear that the Hawkesbury Council, representing the community most at risk from flooding, should support this new initiative. I have been advocating and writing about this for many years.

To date, Council has not availed itself of the opportunity to express this support, and it would be timely for it to do so in the face of well intended but misguided opposition from environmentalists.

Thus, I and my fellow Liberal Councillors are bringing a Notice of Motion before the chamber next Tuesday to invite my colleagues to show their support for this measure which will protect your life and property against the rare but potentially catastrophic effects of a bad flood. I will have more to say on this soon.

ORD_APR1_2018_BP_NOM(WarragambaDam)

Appearing on the ABC News about raising Warragamba Dam

I was pleased to be interviewed by the ABC today on the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam. This project will mitigate against the frequency and severity of floods in the Hawkesbury, and will save life and property.

I'll have much more to say about this soon. Stay tuned.


Commemorating the 1867 Hawkesbury Flood

To help commemorate the upcoming 150th anniversary of the tragic, yet fascinating events of the 1867 flood, I recently took The Hawkesbury Gazette journalist Justine Doherty on a brief tour of the flood exhibit at the Hawkesbury Museum.
I talk about flood history in the Hawkesbury, a subject dear to my heart as I am the direct descendant of a third-fleet victim of the Windsor flood of 1809 (William Kentwell), and I remind everyone that they should come to Thompson Square on the evening of Friday 23rd June to join the official commemorations.
The Gazette's story is which I appear is here.

 


The Health of Currency Creek

The health of our creeks and other waterways should be important to us all. The river and all its tributaries are jewels in the area's crown.

In our city, responsibility is shared between Hawkesbury City Council, various statutory bodies such as National Parks, the EPA and Sydney Water, and another body you may not have heard of, Hawkesbury River County Council. I was pleased to be elected in 2016 by my fellow Councillors to one of the two positions as delegate from Hawkesbury council to the County Council, which is a joint effort covering the LGA's of Hawkesbury, Penrith, Blacktown and the Hills Shire.

The County Council's responsibility is largely related to weed control in and near our waterways. Since coming on board, I've been impressed at the practical and professional approach shown by its leadership and workers. My perception is that it's a tight ship, and the people know and love their jobs.

Recently, a Hawkesbury resident approached me and expressed concern about the health of Currency Creek. The creek runs east from Tennyson, through Glossodia, Ebenezer and Sackville where it joins the river.

The picture was alarming:

Concern was also expressed on social media:

I took up the issue at our HRCC committee meeting last night.

I was informed that upper sections of the 15km length of Currency Creek are frequently reduced to a series of standing ponds. Sometimes 200 or 300m long, sometimes shallow and sometimes 6-8 feet deep. The green scum is Duckweed, and blooms of it can cause the underlying water to become anaerobic "black water".

Low flows in the upper reach of creeks are a natural consequence of rainfall patterns. It was not the opinion of HRCC staff  that nutrient levels here are higher than normal because of identifiable agricultural runoff. The presence of dead fish (mostly Carp) arose from the combination of low oxygen and warm water.  Carp like cool conditions. In weather like this, they "cooked".

In terms of what might be done, HRCC's mandate concerning weed control is limited to waterways traversing non-private land. Any waterway on freehold land is not subject to HRCC control. Spraying is not advised in this case because the subsequent biomass decomposition would exacerbate precisely the conditions causing the fish death. Many water plants such as Azolla (which, for example, my neighbour's dam is full of where I live in Oakville) fix Nitrogen directly from the air, and return nutrients to the environment on decomposition. In fact, this is a strategy actively used by the Chinese to fertilise rice paddies for centuries. The Duckweed is not something that can readily be reduced, either mechanically or chemically.

However, there's good news: This section of creek, although less than healthy now, is isolated and a single rainfall event will flush such blooms out. Here's a picture taken recently of the same creek only 5km further downstream.

Here, the water is clean and healthy, and shows the spectrum of biodiversity of a healthy creek. The whole creek isn't sick, just small sections. It's the height of Summer, and no creek flows freely at all times and places.

Concerned locals should also note that groundwater monitoring occurs continuously in the same are. The monitoring station pictured below is very close to the location of the concerned resident's video, and the health of our waterways are always under review.

In my new role at HRCC, I have been pleased to witness a new GPS-based logging and reporting system that has seen the number of property inspections for weeds rise through 2,500 per year and keep increasing. This requires a data sharing arrangement with member Councils and I have been supporting the dialogue required to make this happen. The HRCC makes good use of  volunteer and vocational programs for its on-the-ground workers, and gains an increasing share of its income from commercial activities and government grants, placing a smaller burden on contributions from member councils.

If the concerned resident was worried that "no one cares" when he comes across the distressing scene of a sick waterway and posts video of it on Facebook, then I can assure him that the HRCC noticed, and discussed the matter at length within 48 hours of his post. The HRCC must operate within its' mandate, but if other environmental agencies need to be engaged, then they will be.

If you're a Hawkesbury resident and are concerned about the health of a waterway in your area, or about a noxious weed control matter that may fall within HRCC's remit, contact me and I'll forward your concerns.

-Clr. Zamprogno


Finding common ground on Windsor Bridge

thompson-square-protest

There is no more controversial issue before the new council than the project to replace Windsor Bridge. It is an issue that has tested friendships, inflamed passions within the community, and created a protest movement that uses every trick in its playbook to prevent the project proceeding.

There will be much more to say on the matter of the bridge, and of the larger issues it augurs relating to the future of our district. I hold particular views on the subject, but this post makes no argument. Yet.

And why? Because there are seven new councillors on council, myself included. I feel that the first step, the step that must occur before a substantive debate about the bridge occurs, must be for the new council to be properly briefed by the relevant departments.

So, at the council meeting on Tuesday, I moved my first Notice Of Motion which called for a briefing to be given to us on the project. I asked that the briefing be held either in Thompson Square, or in Chambers (or both), and that relevant RMS, ministry and council staff be present. Councillor Richards and Councillor Reynolds had moved similar motions of a more limited scope, relating generally to support for an extra river crossing, and relating to an overall traffic strategy respectively. I am pleased that both of those councillors acknowledged that my own motion encompassed their concerns, and with their permission and certain amendments, they withdrew their motions and the following was put:

"That Council:

Support an additional crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

  1. A Councillor Briefing, incorporating presentations from relevant RMS and Council staff be held to provide details on the current status of the Windsor Bridge project.
  2. This Briefing should address project status, heritage, traffic performance, design and aesthetic issues (including open space) and maintenance responsibilities.
  3. A further Briefing be held for RMS and Transport for NSW officers to outline options and planning for future river crossings including commentary on the impacts of proceeding with the current Windsor Bridge replacement.
  4. That Briefing canvas the various options to give substantive effect to achieving the actions and funding of studies and investigations."

My background to the motion, furnished to assist my colleagues to understand why this was important, stated:

"The state of the Windsor Bridge replacement project is the most contentious issue before the new Council. The expectation of some is that Council should quickly resolve to reverse its former support for Option 1 and now formally oppose the project.

With seven new Councillors in the new term, there is clear merit in receiving a briefing on this issue before such a resolution comes before the Council, especially when it seems obvious there is sincere disagreement on some matters of fact.

To assist the General Manager identify which public officials should be invited to best achieve the briefing’s purpose, and to permit those officials to be adequately prepared, it is proposed the matters to be discussed could include (but not be limited to):

  1. The current state of the bridge replacement project (true cost and timeframe).
  2. How the project is identifying and conserving the heritage of Thompson square.
  3. The status of nearby heritage items, including number 10 Bridge St, the colonial era drainage works, the School of Arts steps, and the remnants of Greenway’s wharf.
  4. The evidentiary basis for predictions relating to improved traffic flow.
  5. The adequacy of the project to deal with projected traffic flows on a multi-decade horizon.
  6. The proposed aesthetic qualities, form, fabric, scale and position of the new bridge.
  7. How the project will manage the slope between the upper part of Thompson square park and the water.
  8. What ongoing input Council can have in ensuring the renewed precinct will suit the communities’ needs as regards amenity, aesthetic design (stone, ironwork, landscaping etc), tourism, mobility access, parking, historical interpretation and so on – which will be Council’s responsibility to manage after State-managed works are complete.
  9. What the options are for a longer term plan for future river crossings, such as the suggestion that an additional crossing form part of the feasibility investigations for the M9 orbital.
  10. What the cost of Option 8 from the 2011 RTA study would have been, which was for a downstream bridge near Pitt Town, and how it compares to the likely final cost of Option 1.
  11. Whether the time-frame or funding of such a future crossing is in any way affected by the completion or cancellation of the current bridge replacement project."

I am well aware that feelings run strong on this issue, and my expectation is that those councillors who oppose the project should and will ask many pointed questions when the briefing is held. I hope they do! Ultimately, eleven of the councillors voted in favour of my motion, which is pleasing.

The sole vote against the councillors receiving this briefing came from CAWB member, John Ross. I'll repeat that: On the very issue that elected Clr. Ross to Council, my worthy colleague voted against councillors even receiving a briefing, even after I had made it clear that it must be regarded as the first step towards a productive, rather than an angry and sterile, debate.

I will have much more to say on the subject of Windsor Bridge, but I will do so after this briefing has been given.