THE state government has approved plans for the completion of the $43.3 million upgrade of Chaffey Dam, despite conceding it will have a “significant” impact on an endangered frog species.
The presence around the dam site of the Booroolong frog has been blamed for delaying approval of the state-significant infrastructure project by more than two years.
But NSW Planning and Infrastructure has signed off on the development after concluding the impact on the frog’s habitat simply “cannot be avoided or completely mitigated”.
Its report estimates 6.4 per cent of the tiny amphibian’s habitat will be “impacted” by the project, which is designed to secure Tamworth’s water needs for the next 40 years.
“The application is expected to have a significant impact on the Booroolong frog,” the judgment read.
“Significant environment impacts can be managed through mitigation actions and appropriate biodiversity offsets.
“Planning and Infrastructure considers that, on balance, the proposal is justified and in the public interest.”
The federal Department of Environment is now reviewing the project to ensure it complies with obligations under environmental protection laws.
Tamworth mayor Col Murray said he was pleased “sanity prevailed” and the “pesky” frog was not allowed to scupper such a critical project.
“This is probably one of the most important pieces of infrastructure that actually touches everyone in our community, particularly our local irrigators,” he said.
“This will provide much better security for them and should lessen the incidences of water restrictions for the Tamworth community.”
If Chaffey Dam remained at its current capacity of 62,000 megalitres, it is estimated Tamworth residents would be burdened with water restrictions every six years. But with the expansion to take its capacity to 100,000 megalitres, water restrictions are predicted to be required no more than once every 10 years.
Peel Valley Water Users Association president Ildu Monticone disagreed with the mayor and said the dam upgrade would have few benefits for the region’s irrigators.
“The water-sharing plan sets a maximum extraction limit and when the dam’s enlarged no additional quantities of water will be made available for the irrigators. When the dam is full, it will enhance our water security for a year or two, but that is the only benefit. Even if we had an enlarged Chaffey Dam this year it wouldn’t be full and so we’d still be looking at a zero allocation next year,” he said.