Virtual Dams 2010

A reality or a disaster? 1

The Virtual dam is the dam you have, when you don’t have a dam – Dam confusing isn’t it?

This 2005 article is reprinted here in the public interest to show in context, 2005 and 2010, as the final consultation (now called Water Security) closed on May 24, 2010; and the Virtual Dam is close to being a reality. This post links to the next three posts and a previous post “London Bridge – Australian style: 420 million years ago,” published on May 6, 2010.

Not impressed in 2005

In 2005 the Queanbeyan and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) community were invited to comment on ACTEW’s “Future Water Options.” Submissions closed on 11 March 2005. [Information was available on the ACTEW 2005 website under <futurewateroptions>but are not available now. National Library of Australia has a copy see at the end of this post].

Actually ACTEW had not one but several options for Virtual dams in the pipeline at that time but Googong was in “Queanbeyan’s backyard” and this article was written and published in the Queanbeyan Age under “Queanbeyan Outlook with Connee-Colleen, Virtual Dams: a reality or a disaster,” March 8, 2005, p.5, to make the Queanbeyan community aware of Virtual Dams.

Millions of dollars

A Virtual dam is a dam that uses existing infrastructure where water from a river can be pumped to a Water Treatment Works, without storage; or water can be pumped into an existing dam for storage .

Pumping and pipeline building costs money so whilst virtual dams are cheaper than new dams they still cost millions of dollars.

In the immediate short term (in 2005) the ACTEW strategy is to look for cost effective solutions that address the ACT water shortages during dry conditions and delay spending money on infrastructure. Actually ACTEW has several options for virtual dams.

Short term strategy

In 2005 ACTEW was in the process of lobbying to drastically reducing environmental flows during dry conditions from the Cotter and Googong dams and have spillage counted as part of these calculations.

Generally water release is controlled by the amount of water coming into a dam equaling the amount of water leaving the dam.

For some reason (the platypus and wildlife were winners in 1999) because the existing 1999 Environmental Flow Guidelines required that Googong reservoir release 2 million litres of water every day into the Queanbeyan River, irrespective of the amount of water flowing into the dam. Spillage is not part of these calculations.

Greed before need

It is the two million litres of water released each day, even during the present worst drought on ACT records, that has ensured our Queanbeyan River is a healthy habitat for our endangered platypus and other native wildlife.

Whilst people may agree with ACTEW that a reduction in environmental flow is a good thing because it makes more water available for people, this rhetoric does not mean it is a good thing if it means less water for the Queanbeyan River and the native wildlife like our endangered platypus.

ACTEW pat themselves on the back, that they are exporters of water, and after high grade treatment, releases almost half of the water used by the ACT and Queanbeyan, finds its way back into the river system.

Up and down stream

This returned water may help people living down stream from the ACT but it does not help the upstream Queanbeyan River or our upstream (from the ACT) Queanbeyan platypus.

Eventually as the region develops and population increases long term solutions including options for new tunnels or dams with costs from $116 to $240 million dollars will be built in the ACT.

Of concern to Queanbeyan right now are the short term, cheap solutions that ACTEW are trying to implement.

Cheap at $ 35M

One of the cheapest Virtual dam options includes the use of Googong dam for extra water storage. At a cost of only $35 Million it will provide the ACT with enough water for about another 10 years.

During the 1965-68 drought water from the Tantangara Dam was released down the Murrumbidgee River and pumped into Cotter Dam.

This option is not considered again under recent proposals probably because of expense and the risk of an environmental contamination, the introduction of alien fish or pests and disease to the Cotter River from the Cotter Dam.

Angles Crossing

The Googong Virtual dam proposal involves releasing water from Tantangara River (Dam) down the Murrumbidgee to Angles Crossing in the ACT, where a weir will be built to hold enough water which will be pumped into an underground pipe to Burra Creek.

Imagine Burra Creek with 18 billion litres of water flowing down it into the Googong Dam as part of the Virtual Dam project proposed by ACTEW?

That Burra Creek might be in shock is an understatement. It is also an understatement to say that bank erosion is inevitable. How much erosion to the banks of Burra Creek, is not explained.

Seat holds power

The powers of the ACT to control all the water in the ACT plus all the water in the Molonglo and Queanbeyan River catchment is encapsulated in the 1909 Seat of Government Acceptance Act.

ACTEW has details of all the dams on its website but it is difficult to find information on the building of Googong in the 1970′s or any conditions.

Let’s look after Queanbeyan’s backyard, our river and the wildlife that inhabit it. Let’s keep our river healthy by making sure that environmental flow releases continue as they have been during dry conditions, during the present drought.

Long term disaster?

Let’s make sure that any short term solution doesn’t leave us with a long term disaster.

Smaller environmental flow releases could be confirmed and implemented as early as August 2005.

Let’s tell our city cousins the kids from the bush are not impressed.


Footnotes / Resources

1. “Queanbeyan Outlook with Connee-Colleen, Virtual Dams: a reality or a disaster,” (5) The Queanbeyan Age, March 8, 2005, p.5.
2. ACTEW (Australian Capital Territory, Electricity & Water) had information on their ACTEW website in 2005 but they are inactive now (six years later). ACTEW also handed out information booklets on “Future Water Options.” Connee has booklets stored but they are not available at the moment to footnote – sorry.
3. NB: The National Library of Australia holds a copy of ACTEW’s future water options:
Future water options for the ACT region [electronic resource …
Available in the National Library of Australia collection. Author: ACTEW Corporation; Format: Book, Online; – Cached
4. If you google “Future Water Options” (Australia) and ACTEW you should come up with some links:
5. A discussion paper produced by the Future Water Options Sub …
A discussion paper produced by the. Future Water Options Sub-Committee of the. Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee. 2nd EDITION ……/Water%20for%20the%20Future.pdf

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