THE Booroolong frog might be small, but its croak has been well and truly heard in the corridors of power in Tamworth, Sydney and Canberra.
It is the tiny amphibian that for more than two years has had proponents of the $45 million Chaffey Dam upgrade hopping mad.
The frog has been blamed – in part, at least – for holding up a project that is said to ensure Tamworth’s water security for the next 40 years.
Booroolong frogs, which are found only in NSW and northern Victoria, are classified as an endangered species under state and federal laws.
Experts say it is difficult to accurately estimate their numbers, but agree the population has declined rapidly since the 1970s.
Surveys have shown the Namoi catchment – specifically upstream of Chaffey Dam – is the site of one of its most “robust and resilient” populations.
It was for this reason the Namoi Catchment Management Authority (CMA) raised concerns at the start of the year about the impact expanding the dam would have on the frog.
In a response to the environmental impact statement, Namoi CMA general manager Bruce Brown called for “additional research and investigation” to be carried out in possible mitigation measures prior to project approval.
The project seemed to have stalled indefinitely until New England MP Barnaby Joyce dropped a bombshell last Wednesday, saying he was confident work would start in early to mid-2014.
The Leader contacted State Water last Thursday to establish what, if anything, had changed, but was told only that it is “complying with the required environmental assessment procedures” and “looks forward to receiving notification of relevant environmental approvals”.
Philip Spark has been researching the frog since 2004 and is worried political expediency might eventually override sound environmental management.
“Since 2004, I have seen some populations decline further and others recover, which suggests that this frog’s future is still in the balance,” he said.
“Any loss of its habitat due to the Chaffey Dam enlargement should be carefully considered, to ensure the mitigation measures and offsets proposed are scientifically sound and not just political expedience to get construction under way.”