Dam or be damned!

Flat White

Beverley McArthur


Beverley McArthur

20 October 2022

4:00 AM

Australia: the land of droughts and flooding rains.

Dorothea Mackellar was clearly not just a poet – but a handy weather watcher, without the shrill note of panic in her pen.

She didn’t write about crisis or emergency. She wrote about the bleeding obvious – the normal weather cycles in this great land of ours.

It would seem her observation skills are arguably better, than someone who lately poses as an expert in these matters: Tim Flannery. His 2007 claim that ‘even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams’ is, um, memorable. I mean, forgettable.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s climate arrow points straight to La Niña, meaning the clouds will keep gathering for some time.

The East coast of the island is swollen with water – the bulging rivers purging to sea, or finding relief beyond their banks, the waters spewing and sprawling across paddocks and swirling down streets.

The anxiety of sandbagging in the race to beat mother nature is real. The threat of the unknown is immense. The realisation of the brutal damage done: heartbreaking.

If only we’d built more dams.


In years to come, maybe not far away, the water will be replaced with cracked soil and a desperate, rasping dry. We will put buckets in our showers to catch every legitimate drop for wilting gardens.

That’s Australia. Droughts and flooding rains.

In Victoria, state and federal emergency funds are currently chasing the avoidable losses down the drain.

Instead of making the most of heavy rain, we watch it wash away.

In 2019, then Victorian Water Minister, Lisa Neville, did her very best to imitate Tim Flannery when she told The Australian that the, ‘Victorian government has ruled out new dams, saying climate change means not enough water would flow into them to make them worthwhile.’

Instead of taking the federal government’s offer of $1.3 billion for new water infrastructure, she only wanted money to expand the Wonthaggi desalination plant, saying ‘…we’d be very happy to see any new federal funding going towards augmenting our desalination plant, to increase the yearly production capacity from 150GL to 200GL.’

The Victorian Desalination Plant (VDP), requires huge amounts of electricity to create the water. Once constructed, a dam takes no energy at all.

Think about the looming man-made disaster when unreliable energy collides with drought: the lights will go out and the taps will run dry.

And we call ourselves a first-world nation.

When the VDP started in 2009, the expected construction and operation bill was $3.5 billion. That figure, on the government’s website, is now $5.7 billion for the 30-year contract. Some conservative commentators have put it closer to $18 billion.

Even in 2015, these costs were running at $1.8 million a day.

In 2019 the state ordered $81 million worth of water from the desalination plant and $77 million in 2021-22.

The maths is boggling: $77 million spent on manufactured water while the real stuff falls from the sky and washes away.

And Victorians are paying for it. As if their cost of living isn’t great enough!

In that 2019 interview, Lisa Neville slammed then Federal Water Resources Minister, David Littleproud, for offering money for dam building.

Ms Neville said Littleproud ‘…demonstrates a complete lack of understanding when it comes to water and climate change, especially in Victoria.’

‘New dams,’ she said, ‘do not create any new water.’

One wonders if Ms Neville has looked out her window lately, stood in a puddle or even watched the news.

In the Dams versus Desal debate, I’m on the side of the dams.

In Queensland, a state led by the red-carpet-loving Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, two new dams will be built. However, at a cost $12 billion, hers are not for water supply, but for creating hydro energy.

Dams for water, bad. Dams for ‘renewable’ energy: cue the clapping.

These dams will supposedly replace the state’s five state-owned coal-fired power stations. They will only have 24 hours energy storage.

54 homes will be acquired in the process, but no complaints from Labor & Co. Regional folk are expendable. These dams sit firmly on the high altar of eco-warrior worship.

So, it would seem, dams are fine after all.

Right now, Melbourne’s water storage capacity is at 96 per cent. Goulburn Murray Water, which includes Eildon and Eppalock (in flood) is at 103 per cent storage. Geelong is at 99 per cent. Gippsland is 100 per cent and so on.

On 17 October 2019, I stood up in the Victorian Parliament and asked for new dams to be built.

As I write this, exactly three years later, and with a state in flood, I ask the same question again.

Why spend $77 million for manufactured water this year, when we could capture that flowing into the sea today and save ourselves the fear and fortune linked to droughts and desalination?

At the National Jobs and Skills Summit in August, the federal government announced the 2022-23 permanent Migration Program will increase to 195,000.

If we want to keep growing our population, we will need more water.

We need dams not desalination plants.

And we need them, literally, right now.

Bev McArthur is Liberal Member for Western Victoria and Shadow Assistant Minister for Scrutiny of Government.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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