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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

18 August 2000

Is there a future for Dams in Australia?

"Weirs and dams are loved or loathed, depending on their purpose. One thing is for sure, to dam or not to dam, or to remove or renovate, will have the people at the barricades wherever the favourite watering hole or source of power or precious irrigation supply is under the microscope", Dr Sharman Stone MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Heritage said today at the opening of the Way Forward on Weirs Conference in Sydney.

The conference has attracted international and Australian water experts who will discuss the effects of weirs on the environment and when they should be renovated or removed or managed differently.

"Long ago we used the best engineering brains of the age to divert the flows of inland water. In New South Wales alone there are some 3,000 weirs on rivers and streams, that supply water to farms and towns right across the state", Dr Stone said.

"However, the impacts of weirs and dams on our water quality and availability cannot be underestimated. Before European settlement, an average of 14,300 gigalitres of water flowed to the mouth of the Murray. Today total diversions are around 11,000 gigalitres. The salt loads and toxic algal blooms are an indication that this situation is not sustainable".

The conference will examine experience from around the world in management of waterways, especially the United States where many dams and weirs were built for logging operations or power generation a hundred years ago, but are now a public safety problem.

"There are always lessons for Australia to learn from the experience of others, particularly in areas like the Murray Darling Basin where we find 70% of Australia's irrigation. The Basin is also experiencing serious environmental problems that threaten this great 'foodbowl'".

The internationally significant ('Ramsar listed') Narran Lakes on the New South Wales - Queensland border is an example of an area under intense environmental pressure due to the extent of private dam building which diverts most of the water from the streams for crops.

"The environment does not observe state boundaries. Over irrigation through water harvesting in one part of the Basin results in environmental degradation downstream. This forum is an opportunity to debate and discuss the way ahead."

The Way forward on Weirs Conference is taking place at the Centenary Theatre at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney today and tomorrow.

For further information please contact:
Simon Frost 0419 495 468 or 02 6277 2016
August 18th 2000

Commonwealth of Australia