A dam plan: Dungog residents prepare push for controversial Tillegra Dam proposal to be revisited

Rethink: Dungog man Michael Dowling is leading a campaign to have a new Dungog dam put back on the table. Picture: Lachlan LeemingA group of Dungog locals is planning to lobby the State government to revisit the controversial Tillegra Dam proposal, as a worsening drought grips the Hunter region.
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Sixth-generation Dungog resident Michael Dowling is a key figure behind the push, saying that a lack of rain and the Lower Hunter’s booming population were his main motivators in dragging the divisive proposal back into the spotlight.

“Ever since that dam was knocked back, the town has been on a downward spiral,” Mr Dowling said.

Comment: Dammed if we do, damned if we don’t

“If we had the Tillegra Dam, you would have had business, development –it would have been a quantum leap forward for the shire.”

The dam was originally pitched in 2006 as a means of shoring up water security in the Lower Hunter and Central Coast.

The NSW Government had already spent $100m purchasing 6000 hectaresfor the sitewhen the plan was dumpedfollowingintense pressure from environmental groups, forcing the Keneally Labor Government to abandon the project in November 2010.

The land was sold off in five lots in 2015, with the State Government copping an expensive black eye in the form of a $50m loss.

However, Mr Dowling is confidentcircumstances have changed enough since then to warrant a rethink.

Abandoned: Mr Dowling with a map of the proposed dam boundary. The project was scrapped in 2010.

“A lot has changed in seven years –would they have envisaged a 5000 house development in Lochinvar?”

“We’ve got the population explosion around Maitland at a rate of knots and everyone needs water.”

Mr Dowling owns a parcel of land bordering on the proposed damwhere he runs a small number of cattle, goats and sheep.

He says he can empathise with those angered by the thought of losing their properties to a dam site, but the current “big dry” showed more water storage was a must.

“I know all to well the heritage values of farmers losing their properties, but if these dry spells continue every summer andwe don’t get rain soon, where are we going to be in three months time?” he said.

“I was speaking to my father this morning and hesaid it’s the driest (around Dungog)it has been since the early 1960s.

“We’ve got farmers spending $100,000 a month to feed livestock…how does someone keep up that sort of money?”

“From a community and shire perspective, this is what we’re crying out for.”

Mr Dowling at his Dungog store.

Mr Dowling has created a Facebook page, ‘We need water, we need Tillegra dam’, to further his cause.

He says feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“There’s so many people who have been converted saying, ‘jeez we needed that dam,’” he said.

The next step is to organise a committee which he says will formally approach the State government and Hunter Water regarding the dam.

“I see the need for water andI see the need to help the town,” he said.

“It’s all about getting a conversation going around it.The goal is to have people realise that water doesn’t just come out of the tap – we need to know where it comes from and look at where the future supplies are going to comefrom.”

Dam concept “outdated”, says Norman Unchanged: Dungog Mayor Tracy Norman says her personal opinion hasn’t changed a decade after the proposal was first put forward.

Dungog MayorTracy Norman’s personal opinion on the Tillegra Dam remains unchanged more than 10 years after the development was first floated.

Cr Norman was a key member of the No Tillegra Dam Group, which opposed the450 gigalitre dam planon environmental and social grounds throughout the proposal process.

She saidher opinion hadn’t changed in the years since then, callingconstruction of a dam in the region an“outdated concept”.

“My opinion is there are (water) technologies developingconstantly, so to put in something that’s such a stagnant thing doesn’t make sense to me,” Cr Norman said, emphasising that it was her own viewand not representative of the Dungog Council standpoint.

“Technology has moved forward from the idea of locking up a whole lot of pretty good land for a dam…once you do it, there’s no coming back from it,” she said.

Cr Norman snapped up a 1297 hectare (3200 acre) package from the proposed site when the land was sold off by Hunter Water in 2015.

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