Tillegra not quite dead in the water

AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: An artist's impression of the proposed and scrapped Tillegra Dam.
AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: An artist's impression of the proposed and scrapped Tillegra Dam.

A MAJOR audit of the NSW public sector has flagged the financial advantages of building Tillegra dam as a water supply option, while former dam landowners have yet to buy back their properties.

The Commission of Audit, chaired by David Gonski and conducted by former Treasury official Kerry Schott, also recommended Hunter Water consider ways to extend the competitive tender of operations, and the maintenance, and possible lease or sale, of new and existing water treatment and wastewater treatment and recycled water plants. The audit, ordered by the government to find ways to make the public sector more efficient, noted ‘‘an issue around reliability of [water] supply’’ in the region had led to the Tillegra dam proposal, which was later dumped on environmental grounds.

‘‘Hunter Water owns about 90per cent of the area to be impacted by that proposed dam and at a cost of about $400million it was less than half the cost of a desalination plant,’’ the report said.

‘‘At some point in the future the difficult decision about the most appropriate option to expand Hunter Water’s supply must be confronted.’’

The Department of Finance and Services and an independent expert panel are considering dam options, including a smaller proposal in the Tillegra area, as part of work on a new water plan, despite the government ruling out the original Tillegra dam.

But Finance and Services Minister Greg Pearce has said he wants a more rigorous assessment of how vulnerable the region’s water supplies are in the face of drought conditions.

Mr Pearce recently revealed no former Tillegra landowners had yet bought back their properties despite Hunter Water’s approaches to some.

Greens MP John Kaye said the comparative cheapness of a dam to a desalination plant was ‘‘of profoundly little relevance’’ given the water plan should consider sustainable options.

He said the lease or sale of recycled water plants and other infrastructure would mark the start of the privatisation of Hunter Water, leading to more expensive bills and less reliable service for residents.

In Friday’s Government Gazette, the state’s dam safety committee revoked a requirement for it to be notified of any mining lease proposal for the Tillegra area.

Committee executive engineer Steve Knight said the original order was made when the former government proposed the dam, and it had been revoked as part of a standard review given there were no current plans for a dam in the area.