Researching Warragamba Dam: Conservation Vs Flood Protection

By joel dalberger

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CONTEXT: what and why.

It is currently proposed to raise the Warragamba Dam for flood mitigation in downstream towns and urban growth centres of western Sydney. This will also result in negative impacts for areas upstream of the dam including potential for inundation and flooding of indigenous heritage sites and pristine natural environments. The intangible values of these environmental and indigenous heritage assets upstream of the dam have not been quantified. This research project involves an environmental economics study of these issues through implemntation of a specialised public survey to quantify the value society places on environmental and indigenous heritage conservation compared to flood protection.

Below is an outline of background information regarding the research project, however if you want more information or wish to see the full research project plan with literature review, methodology, program and budget, please feel free to get in contact. The content below is quite extensive, however I feel it is necessary to provide this detail and information about such an important issue combined with the context of this being a fundraising campaign for a research project.

I am undertaking this research project because it addresses the critical question of what value does society place on conserving environmental and indigenous heritage assets compared to flood mitigation benefits in the context of the proposed Warragamba Dam raising project. I believe this research needs to be done and it will fill a gap in the current cost-benefit analysis for the proposed dam raising project. It is original research which has not been done before, employing environmental economics frameworks and tools in the unique and complex context of flood mitigation, indigenous heritage, environmental protection, and conservation in prominent world heritage and national park areas.

Your contribution to the research project will be greatly valued and if you are wondering how much to donate – ask yourself, how much would you pay for protection of endangered species, pristine wild rivers and priceless indigenous heritage and culture?

OVERVIEW: dammed if you do, damned if you don’t.

At the core of many infrastructure projects is conflict between conservation of the natural environment and economic benefits derived from infrastructure expansion to accommodate the needs of growing populations. This is highlighted in the case of Australia’s Warragamba Dam, where it is proposed to increase the height of the dam wall for flood mitigation in the downstream floodplain. The proposed dam raising will negatively impact upstream areas including protected conservation areas and national parks, home to pristine natural environments, endangered species, and indigenous cultural heritage sites.

To date, the monetary value of these natural environments and indigenous heritage sites has not been quantified. This research project aims to quantify these critical, but currently overlooked, values and investigate where society stands in the trade-off between environmental and cultural heritage conservation and flood mitigation.

Using Warragamba Dam as a case study, the goal of the research project is to determine if society places higher value on conservation/heritage or on flood protection, where the two outcomes are mutually exclusive. The estimated monetary valuation of protecting environmental and indigenous cultural heritage assets can be included in the dam project’s cost-benefit analysis and used as a benchmark in evaluation of other major infrastructure projects across the globe which face similar complexity in balancing environmental, social and economic outcomes.

BACKGROUND: the proposed Warragamba Dam raising project.

Over the past fifty years numerous studies and reports have been produced on flood risk management in the Hawkesbury-Nepean river catchment and the Warragamba Dam (Inter-departmental Committee of Inquiry into Nepean-Hawkesbury Flood Problems, 1968; Gutteridge et al., 1981; ERM Mitchell McCotter Pty Ltd, 1995; Molino Stewart Pty Ltd, 2012). The topography and geography of the catchment make it highly susceptible to major flooding, with significant economic consequences for towns and urban growth centres in the downstream flood plain of western Sydney (Infrastructure NSW, 2012).

Based on feasibility studies and cost-benefit analysis completed for a range of options to reduce flood risk, the NSW State Government has concluded that raising the Warragamba Dam by 14m is currently the most cost effective and feasible flood mitigation option. While the proposed dam raising provides a structural mechanism for potentially reducing flood risk to the downstream catchment and flood plain, it comes with considerable environmental impacts and consequences. With the increased height, waters which would be held back during a flooding event will inundate extensive areas upstream of the dam, including the Burragorang Conservation Area, Nattai National Park, the Yerranderie Conservation Area and Blue Mountains National Park. These impacted areas are home to endangered species, pristine native environments and indigenous cultural heritage sites (ERM Mitchell McCotter Pty Ltd., 1995).

The existing cost-benefit analysis for the dam raising project notes that there are a number of “intangible” costs associated with the proposed dam raising; including increased risk of periodic, temporary inundation of 75 square kilometres of national parks and wilderness areas (Milano Stewart Pty Ltd., 2012 and ERM Mitchell McCotter Pty Ltd., 1995). The value of these “intangible” costs have not been quantified for inclusion in the current cost-benefit analysis. The goal of the research project is to fill this gap through application of the ‘total economic value’ framework by evaluating the contributions of natural and indigenous heritage to human well-being. The research project will quantify the use and non-use values associated with these elements through implementation of a specially designed two-way contingent value survey tool across western Sydney and Sydney metro areas.

This investigation and analysis is critical as the potential loss of irreplaceable endangered species and indigenous heritage sites, with cultural and environmental significance of tens of thousands of years, is currently subject to a decision-making process with limited inputs. While the case of the Warragamba Dam is unique, it does not stand alone as a major infrastructure project facing significant challenges and complexities in balancing social, economic and environmental outcomes. Through implementation of an online survey, this research will gather data on society’s willingness to pay for conservation versus flood protection, with the new knowledge obtained aimed at helping inform the cost-benefit analysis for the proposed dam project, as well as providing useful insights to assist evaluation of other major infrastructure projects across the globe.


As the research project will be undertaken and academically supported through the International WaterCentre (IWC) Masters program, Griffith University and The University of Queensland (UQ), it will be carried out in alignment with, and satisfying the requirement of, these institutions in relation to academic policies, human research ethics and transparency of interests and funding.

The proposed Warragamaba Dam raising is a highly contentious project in the public domain with prominent political and social significance at regional, state and national scales ( It is of utmost importance that the research project adheres to recognised research and academic standards and obligations to maintain an objective and neutral research position with high credibility and integrity.

The Colong Foundation (, Australia’s longest-serving community advocate for wilderness, along with the Western Sydney University have expressed interest in the research project and potential opportunity for providing non-financial support and resources. In addition there is strong potential for outputs of the research to be supported and promoted by the McGregor Coxall Biocity research lab ( and others such as the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University and the International River Foundation (


I would like to make it clear that the reason I am raising money for this research project is so it can be carried out at a scale large enough for the outputs to have significant impact at state and national levels, and this is far beyond the normal required scope of a final year Masters project.

While the opportunity to undertake such a research project has been presented through the Master of Integrated Water Management (MIWM) program, delivered by the International WaterCentre, and academically supported by Griffith University and The University of Queensland, what I am seeking to do with my final year project is something extra ordinary – and this requires some extra funding.

The major cost in completing the research project is implementation of the public survey. Implementing the survey through a third party online survey research company will be required in order to obtain data which is statistically reliable and relevant at a scale where the research will be academically and politically recognised. The cost of the survey will be around $15,000 AUD.

The total budget required for completing the research project is $25,000. This is made up of costs for survey implementation, focus groups and pilots for survey development. This type of budget for external data collection is generally not typical for MIWM final projects, however I am dedicated to undertaking a meaningful and robust investigation of the important economic, environmental and social aspects of this major infrastructure project.

At this stage I have been awarded $5,500 AUD from the Ken Thesis Memorial Scholarship for the project (

This is a great start, but more is needed.

The goal is to raise the budget needed to carry out the research project to its full extent. Funding for the research project will be transparent and updates will be provided of any changes in budget or funding arrangements.


With your help this research can be completed and a critical part of the proposed dam raising project can be investigated.

Contributors will be formally thanked for their support in published documents and articles, at their wish and discretion, as well as being able to see ongoing progress of project milestones and final results.

Ultimately, supporters gain the pleasure of donating to a good cause with no inherent bias and the knowledge that they have helped contribute to improving the decision making process for a state significant infrastructure project which has prominent and complex positive and negative outcomes.

Dissemination of results will be through publication of articles and papers which will be publicly available through a number of different avenues and mediums including:

  • Submission of paper and articles for conferences and media publications (e.g. The Conversation, International River Symposium, etc.).
  • International Water Centre (IWC) Masters research output open and available through the UQ and IWC systems and networks to local and international practitioners and students, in addition to presentation and engagement with IWC.
  • Research findings will be formatted as an academic paper for submission to an international peer-reviewed journal. Opportunities will also be sought for conference presentations. Both of these outputs will benefit the broader academic community and contribute to literature in the discipline.

Thanks for your time in reading if you have made it this far! I look forward to sharing the results of this important research with you in the future. Feel free to get in contact if you would like to discuss the project or wish for more information.

Academic References

Bewsher Consulting Pty Ltd. (2012). Hawkesbury Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan: Volume 1: Main Report; Volume 2: Town Planning Issues; Volume 3: Flood Maps and Annotated Bibliography. Sydney NSW.: Report prepared for Hawkesbury City Council's Floodplain Risk Management Advisory Committee. December 2012.

Carson, R. T., Flores, N. E., Martin, K. M., & Wright, J. L. (1996). Contingent valuation and revealed preference methodologies: comparing the estimates for quasi-public goods. Land economics, 80-99.

ERM Mitchell McCotter Pty Ltd. (1995). Proposed Warragamba Flood Mitigation Dam — Environmental Impact Statement (Volumes 1, 2 and 3). Report prepared for the Warragamba Dam Flood Mitigation Program, managed on behalf of the NSW Government by Sydney WAter Corporation Ltd. July 1995.

Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey. (1981). Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Flood Plain Management Strategy. prepared as part of the Joint Commonwealth/State/Local Government Steering Committee Flood Plain Management Studies.

Hawkesbury-Nepean Flood Management Advisory Committee. (1997). Achieving a Hawkesbury-Nepean Floodplain Management Strategy. November 1997.

Hawkesbury-Nepean Floodplain Management Steering Committee. (2006). Designing Safer Subdivisions — Guidance on Subdivision Design in Flood Prone Areas. Parramatta, NSW: Hawkesbury-Nepean Floodplain Management Strategy Steering Committee. June 2006

Infrastructure NSW. (2012). First Things First — The State Infrastructure Strategy 2012–2032. Sydney. NSW: October 2012.

Inter-departmental Committee of Inquiry into Nepean-Hawkesbury Flood Problems. (1968). Interim Report on Short Term Flood Mitigation Works & Measures in the Nepean-Hawkesbury Valley.

Macmillan, D. C., Duff, E. I., & Elston, D. A. (2001). Modelling the non-market environmental costs and benefits of biodiversity projects using contingent valuation data. Environmental and Resource Economics, 18(4), 391-410.

Molino Stewart Pty Ltd. (2012). Hawkesbury-Nepean Flood Damages Assessment. Parramatta, NSW: Report prepared for Infrastruture NSW. September 2012.

Perman, R., Ma, Y., McGilvray, J., & Common, M. (2011). Natural resource and environmental economics. Pearson Education.

Ribbons, S. (2015). Hawkesbury-nepean valley flood management review—developing a strategy where flood depth can be nine metres above flood planning level. Floodplain Management Association National Conference, Australia.

Webb, McKeown & Associates Pty Ltd. (1997). Hawkesbury-Nepean Flood Management Strategy — Engineering Studies to Modify Flood Behaviour. Sydney NSW.: Report prepared for Hawkesbury-Nepean Flood Management Advisory Committee. September 1997.

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