TheWelcome Reef Dam Proposal

Asa Case Study of Social Assessment Practice by Australian Water Utilities

ReportNo WSAA 154

January 2000




The proposedWelcome Reef Dam is located on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales(NSW). It was identified as the preferred structural (engineering) solution toaugment the Sydney Region’s water supply when required. The dam proposal wasthe preferred option to augment the Sydney Region’s water supply although theNSW Government placed it on the planning “backburner” in 1993. Sydney Water andthe Sydney Catchment Authority advise that the dam is presently not requiredwithin the planning horizon of 2030 to 2040.


The researchhypothesis of this project was that Sydney Water and NSW Government waterresources planning policy over the construction of Welcome Reef Dam since 1968has resulted in positive and negative direct and indirect socio-economicimpacts on Tallaganda Local Government Area (LGA). These impacts have occurredalongside other socio-economic impacts, unrelated to the dam proposal, whichhave had a lesser or greater impact on Tallaganda LGA that the dam proposal.Research methodology applied to address the research hypothesis was based onelements of Social Impact Assessment (SIA), or Social Assessment (SA), a facetof  Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA).


The Welcome ReefDam proposal has had a socio-economic impact on Tallaganda LGA. Its impact,however, at the macro scale, is not significant compared with a range of othersocio-economic impacts experienced by Tallaganda LGA. These impacts includeemployment opportunities, the fluctuating prices for agricultural commodities,the provision and maintenance of Tallaganda LGA’s infrastructure, economicrecession, and the availability of and access to community services.


In addition toaddressing the research hypothesis, mindful of the research methodologyemployed, and the subsequent raised appreciation of Sydney Water’s approach toSA, further investigation was undertaken into Sydney Water’s approach to SAincluding the extent to which SA has been institutionalised within theorganisation. Sydney Water is considered the benchmark in the Australian waterindustry in regard to SA practice and the degree to which SA has beeninstitutionalised. The historic evolution of SA at Sydney Water hasdemonstrated a desire for SA practice. However, while this approach does notadequately conform to accepted SA methodological process, it is a beginning inthe right direction. Sydney Water has ‘tailored’ SA to suit its own needs andthis is a common SA practice employed for all types of project, planning andpolicy proposals both within and outside the water industry.


Organisationalpractices have contributed to partially institutionalising SA at Sydney Water.Despite these advances, SA practice at Sydney Water is not scientificallycomprehensive or rigorous, and it is yet to be formally institutionalisedwithin the organisation. Based on this assessment, the report concludes thatSydney Water, and the Australia water industry, need to go beyond environmentallegislative compliance and adopt proactive environmental management methods andstrategies such as SA. To assist this process, this report identifies theconstraints to SA practice at Sydney Water, and by extension, the Australianwater industry, before recommending Guiding Principles for SA practice in theAustralian water industry. Initial mechanisms required to institutionalise theGuiding Principles are also presented.


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