The Welcome Reef Dam Proposal as a Case Study of Social Assessment Practice by Australian Water Utilities
This report was produced for the Urban Water Research Association of Australia, a now discontinued research program.
Report no. UWRAA 154
The proposed Welcome Reef Dam is located on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales (NSW). It was identified as the preferred structural (engineering) solution to augment the Sydney Region’s water supply when required. The dam proposal was the preferred option to augment the Sydney Region’s water supply although the NSW Government placed it on the planning “backburner” in 1993. Sydney Water and the Sydney Catchment Authority advise that the dam is presently not required within the planning horizon of 2030 to 2040.
The research hypothesis of this project was that Sydney Water and NSW Government water resources planning policy over the construction of Welcome Reef Dam since 1968 has resulted in positive and negative direct and indirect socio-economic impacts on Tallaganda Local Government Area (LGA). These impacts have occurred alongside other socio-economic impacts, unrelated to the dam proposal, which have had a lesser or greater impact on Tallaganda LGA that the dam proposal. Research methodology applied to address the research hypothesis was based on elements of Social Impact Assessment (SIA), or Social Assessment (SA), a facet of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The Welcome Reef Dam 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 other socio-economic impacts experienced by Tallaganda LGA. These impacts include employment opportunities, the fluctuating prices for agricultural commodities, the provision and maintenance of Tallaganda LGA’s infrastructure, economic recession, and the availability of and access to community services.
In addition to addressing the research hypothesis, mindful of the research methodology employed, and the subsequent raised appreciation of Sydney Water’s approach to SA, further investigation was undertaken into Sydney Water’s approach to SA including the extent to which SA has been institutionalised within the organisation. Sydney Water is considered the benchmark in the Australian water industry in regard to SA practice and the degree to which SA has been institutionalised. The historic evolution of SA at Sydney Water has demonstrated a desire for SA practice. However, while this approach does not adequately conform to accepted SA methodological process, it is a beginning in the right direction. Sydney Water has ‘tailored’ SA to suit its own needs and this is a common SA practice employed for all types of project, planning and policy proposals both within and outside the water industry.
Organisational practices have contributed to partially institutionalising SA at Sydney Water. Despite these advances, SA practice at Sydney Water is not scientifically comprehensive or rigorous, and it is yet to be formally institutionalised within the organisation. Based on this assessment, the report concludes that Sydney Water, and the Australia water industry, need to go beyond environmental legislative compliance and adopt proactive environmental management methods and strategies such as SA. To assist this process, this report identifies the constraints to SA practice at Sydney Water, and by extension, the Australian water industry, before recommending Guiding Principles for SA practice in the Australian water industry. Initial mechanisms required to institutionalise the Guiding Principles are also presented.