In case you haven’t noticed, the Fat Canyoners aren’t just passionate about enjoying ourselves in nature, we’re deeply committed to protecting and caring for our unique natural landscapes.
It sometimes seems like there’s a new attack on the environment every day. This is probably because plants and animals can’t vote, and unlike property developers and big business they can’t make political donations or hire fancy lobbyists. That’s why it’s so important for the people who love these natural places to stand up for them.
To certain political interests, the word wilderness means a worthless area that needs to be improved with infrastructure or can be easily sacrificed for roads, mines, farms, dams, or other developments.
In New South Wales, where we have most of our adventures, our wild places face a growing number of threats. From massive funding cuts to National Parks — meaning fewer rangers on the ground — to laws that actually protect feral animals that are causing massive environmental destruction, our unique natural heritage is in a fight for survival.
One issue that we’re particularly passionate about is the plan to raise Warragamba Dam, flooding thousands of hectares of pristine wilderness in the southern Blue Mountains. As well as supporting the Colong Foundation’s Wild Rivers campaign (please sign the petition if you haven’t already), we’ve been trying to directly raise awareness of the issue.
Below is our latest effort, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald today. You can also check out T2’s detailed post about the issue when it was initially raised in 2013, or his more recent opinion piece for The Guardian.
We’re also working with some fellow bushwalkers on an exciting initiative to raise awareness and money for the campaign, so keep an eye out for more details!
In coming days, legislation allowing the deliberate destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine World Heritage-listed wilderness is likely to become law, without an assessment of the environmental, cultural, or economic impacts.
Far from the actions of a tin-pot dictatorship, this unprecedented environmental attack is championed by the NSW government and affects areas on Sydney’s doorstep.
It is illegal to flood national park land with a dam, so the Berejiklian government needs to change that if they press ahead with plans to spend an estimated $800 million raising the wall of Warragamba Dam by 14 metres.
The land to be flooded is not only of the highest conservation value, it is among the most highly-protected and significant natural landscapes in Australia: World Heritage-listed; National Park; declared wilderness; declared wild river; and National Heritage status.
Recently, it was confirmed to be a breeding site for one of the rarest birds on earth, the Regent Honeyeater, of which just 400 remain in the wild.
The proposal will lead to extensive and irreversible damage to the integrity of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area as up to 4700 hectares of pristine wilderness go underwater for weeks at a time. Sediment-laden floodwaters will drown many species, coating what remains with a suffocating layer of silt, leaving behind a scoured and eroded landscape. What is currently internationally recognised wilderness will become little more than 65 kilometres of scarred landscape.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian argues the project is needed to protect the lives and property of people who live and work on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River floodplain. According to Infrastructure NSW, 6200 houses are located below the 1-in-500 year flood level. Flood experts have outlined a range of options for improving flood management for these communities, including upgrading evacuation routes and levees, the pre-release of water ahead of forecast rain events, and lowering the full storage level of the existing dam.
The Berejiklian government’s refusal to consider these alternative options is largely because none address the most significant motivation for raising Warragamba Dam: the impact that potential floods have on the North-West Growth Centre.
Thousands of hectares of this land, which is intended to house a quarter of a million new residents during the next three decades, are flood-prone. By raising the dam, the government estimates this area will be able to house an additional 134,000 residents.
The significance of this massive infrastructure project to Sydney’s future urban growth goes some way to explain the disregard for due process.
An environmental impact statement is still in its early stages and is unlikely to be released until the middle of next year. That assessment has already come under fire, with allegations that researchers were told no further studies into the impact on the Regent Honeyeater were needed after the breeding sites were located.
Likewise, indigenous groups have attacked the adequacy of archaeological and cultural heritage examinations, alleging a survey of the thousands of hectares of remote and inaccessible land was conducted over just 25 days.
For the Gundungurra traditional owners, who saw much of their heritage lost when the original Warragamba Dam flooded the fertile river valleys at the heart of their traditional country, what little survived is now at risk.
Pushing legislation through to allow this project, before environmental, cultural, or economic impacts have been assessed has made a mockery of due process. These assessments will become little more than a box-ticking exercise, with the Berejiklian government making clear they will press ahead regardless of the findings.
If one of the most iconic and highly protected landscapes in Australia — home to dozens of rare and threatened species — can be destroyed when politically or economically convenient, no part of our natural heritage is safe.