Dam(n) Waratah! – Tasmanian Times

On 15 August 2020, the Acting General Manager Corporate and Community Relations Ruth Dowty issued a media statement indicating TasWater would proceed with decommissioning the Waratah Reservoir.

Decommissioning the Waratah Dam

Following an extensive search to find a new owner for the Waratah Dam, including two Expression of Interest processes, TasWater will now move to decommissioning the dam.  

Acting General Manager Corporate and Community Relations Ruth Dowty said the preferred position for TasWater, Waratah Wynyard Council and State Government was to find a new owner for the dam.  

“We all worked closely together throughout this process as we know the dam is highly valued by the community. We’ve done everything we can to find a new owner,” Ms Dowty said. 

 The dam has not been used as a water supply for years and is no longer operationally required. It is also not compliant with modern dam safety standards or essential for firefighting. 

 “To keep the dam, it would be mandatory to undertake a multi-million-dollar investment to bring it up to current standards and we are responsible for spending our customer’s money wisely, especially in the current environment.” 

 The picturesque Waratah Waterfall in the town will not be affected when the dam is decommissioned.  

We will continue to keep the community informed as we work through the decommissioning process.” 

There are a number of incorrect or misleading points in this statements as follows:- 

1 – Not needed for drinking water supply

Even as a recent resident I know it is, and the reservoir is a reserve for the town lakes. I understand that a previous TasWater answer to a question about supply concerns during dry times was they would provide residents with bottled water.

2 – Not needed for firefighting

As well documented, the treatment plant cannot cope with large demand and shut down when water was attempted to be drawn from the mains. During a potential major fire on the edge of town residents had no water supply. This was a real experience and not based on modelling. The reservoir has the only ramp access for a fire truck to get to the dam edge to draw water efficiently to fill their tank. See commentary below from Waratah TFS.

An Infrastructure Tasmania Report which is from around 2017 documents ‘accelerated’ programs for TasWater to deliver projects.

In this, the spend for Waratah is listed to be achieved by 2022 and is budgeted at $1.35 million. There is also a budget for ‘non network other’ for the entire state of around $7 million plus minimum per year which I gather is a contingency fund for unexpected expenditure.

It appears Waratah residents are the affected end users of an arbitrary decision on a 10-year plan; they have plenty of our money.

Perhaps the most relevant commentary is the following from the Waratah Volunteer TFS:

“The TFS points out, that the Waratah Reservoir. during a dry summer, when the level is where it was post 2017, it is impossible to draw water from, for fire appliances.

The spillway totally drying up  is not uncommon during hot dry summer in Waratah area, which at the same time is at the greatest risk from vegetation fires.

Fire appliances cannot use Bischoff Reservoir, as the stone dam wall has weight limit and has been damaged from heavy water tankers tramping over it from past Mt Bischoff mining activities. Also, the level drops dramatically during summer.

Dams in Waratah. Water bombing choppers use lower dam to lift from. Fire appliances and all people and vehicles need to keep well clear of choppers working around and over the lower dam. Choice for appliances to fill is either water mains, or direct from top lake, Waratah Dam, water held back by the timber weir, and where TasWater also draws water from for town water supply.

During hot dry summer weather when Waratah River stops flowing, as happened January-February 2019, more water is taken by the treatment plant than is replaced naturally and the treatment plant pump draws air, causing the pump to shut down.

Air in the lines supplying the town causes water hammer thus blowing out hydrants, pipes etc. Lengthy repairs are then required and the town is without water.

Water released as needed from a fully functioning Waratah Reservoir storage upstream will solve these problems.

Into the future, the Tasmania Fire Service plan is bringing in and utilising more and more water bombing choppers for bushfire fighting. These need a water source close by that is also safe and suitable for choppers to fill from, during summer when water levels are notoriously low.

Distance to be  travelled for choppers increases time between water bombing and increases refueling intervals. Time and water availability are directly related to control or loss of control of bushfires.

We are surrounded by huge areas of Eucalyptus nitens plantations and these are highly volatile during hot dry weather. Firefighting by water bombing choppers will be required to deal with bushfires in and threatening these plantations.

The stuff of nightmares for TFS volunteers”.

And to finalise the concern I attach a copy of a LIST map (see below) which shows the Waratah River catchment as ‘TasWater Drinking water catchment’.

And by the way despite the best efforts by TasWater, I am reliably told the Dam’s tenure is still Crown Land (Public Reserve) with the Administrative Authority listed as administered by the Department of Primary Industries.

Thank you, Mike Brewster, PhD OH&S.


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Waratah Dam Meeting – Tasmanian Times

On 4 June I posted an article regarding the Waratah Dam and its ‘management’ by TasWater.

You can find it here and it is important background to the issue.

I wish to advise that the situation has worsened.

Yesterday I was notified by the Friends of the Waratah Reservoir the following:


Sad news. We have just been informed by Taswater that the sale of the reservoir has failed. They will be contacting the government on Monday to have it decommissioned. What will happen to all the animals and birds and fish that call this place home and what will happen to Waratahs water supply safety in dry conditions. This decision is a blatant act of environmental vandalism by an out of control government entity.


This is an untenable position taken by TasWater, particularly given their actions as described in the above article.

It decries all the positiveness detailed by the current covernment (and the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania) in the recently-launched TC21 COVID19 Recovery Strategy and effectively tells the tourist that Waratah is NOT a place to visit.

The Friends of the Waratah Reservoir decry this unsustainable position of Tas Water and will hold a meeting at the Mens’ Shed in Waratah at 11am on Thursday 20 August to determine the way forward.

One would hope that TasWater, Gutwein government members and representatives of the media might be there to witness a moment to listen to the real people of Waratah!

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Regenerating Waratah History – Tasmanian Times

This submission describes in detail the need for support for the township of Waratah to recover, and ultimately grow, in the unstable environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It encompasses the views of proud and concerned Waratah residents who have witnessed the decline of the extraordinary history of the town/area with little or no support from succeeding councils and governments of all persuasions.

This lack of support has been manifestly evident in the absence of positive action by Waratah-Wynyard Council, but more particularly by the actions of TasWater to effectively destroy the Waratah Reservoir, and thereby thwart the unique heritage associated with the development of the Bischoff Mine, the associated powerhouse and other facilities, and then the potentially corrupt and deliberately malignant interference in Heritage Council considerations.

A resultant positive outcome will place Waratah in an eminent position as a west coast tourist destination and symbiotic with and supported by Western Wilds branding.


James ‘Philosopher’ Smith.

The history of Waratah holds a preeminent position in Tasmania. In 1871 James ‘Philosopher’ Smith discovered tin at the Mt Bischoff site and the mine established in 1881.

This discovery heralded the opening of Western Tasmania as a mineral province and the operations at Queenstown, Zeehan, Rosebery, Hellyer, and the rest of the west coast followed. An economic dawning for a state built on convicts, farming, and the extermination of the indigenous inhabitants. It effectively prevented the annexure of Tasmania to Victoria which had been mooted due the dire financial situation the state was in post the convict era.

During the time of its operation the Bischoff tin mine produced some 62,000 tons, enabled the formation of the town and employed 2000 personnel, and was the richest tin mine in the world. The initial Bischoff mining operations were powered by numerous water wheels to drive the ore crushing stamper mills.

In 1883 the mine became the first industrial plant in Australia to be lit by electric light and two years later provided illumination to the mine offices, mine manager’s house, the St James Church and the first street lighting in Australia. In 1907 the Bischoff Powerhouse (the second Hydro station in Tasmania after Duck Reach in Launceston) was constructed on the Waratah River below the Ringtail Falls and operated until the 1950’s. This was a remarkable development and inexorably connected to the simultaneously-constructed Waratah Reservoir. Without the Reservoir there would have been no Powerhouse.

When Cradle Mountain Water handed over their responsibility to TasWater in 2013 it noted there were many structural concerns in the Waratah region and it was recommended that a number of risk mitigation measures needed to be undertaken and that further research was required. None of these was addressed and TasWater reduced the level of the Reservoir (Not the Dam  that Cradle Mountain had transferred) without notice, and in lowering the spillway level of the Reservoir (Crown Land, Public Reserve) violated state and federal laws.

The Reservoir was originally listed as Public Reserve and by extrapolation owned by the community. A search in January 2018 revealed the area had been relisted and was no longer considered Public Reserve. As a result of the activity described above, the enraged Waratah community established a Save the Dam Group. In December 2018 the Group submitted a substantial 132-page submission to the Tasmanian Heritage Council.

On the 17 April 2019 the Heritage Council rejected the application, with their Minutes stating:-

“APPROVE the rejection of the application to enter Waratah Dam Reservoir in the Tasmanian Heritage Register pursuant to section 17(1) of the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995 on the basis that the place does not meet any criteria for entry”.

How could that resolution possibly be agreed to by the Heritage Council? The Reservoir (not owned by TasWater) has the ultimate heritage as described above. For the complete story about the Dam and TasWater please read CEO of GBE has PhD in OH&S.

Current Status

The Waratah township has been a ghost town since the advent of the COVID19 with the all services either closed or at much reduced capacity. This includes the Bischoff Hotel, the Mushroom Café, the Roadhouse, the Museum, and the Atheneum Theatre. The visitation of campervans and tourists has been non-existent, all local tourist businesses have been unable to operate, and the morale of citizens is below zero.

And what are the state government, Council and TasWater doing? The EOI placed by TasWater has achieved nothing although rumour has it a well known civil engineering company is soon to embark upon some rehabilitation of the reservoir ramp and spillway. And the Council has been unable to assist except for the normal maintenance issues – refuse removal etc.

But what else could be achieved in this time of despair? And how much would it cost and in what timeframe?

This submission endeavours to describe an option(s) to rejuvenate the community building on the unique history and extant physical facilities.

Option(s) of Renewal

As described above the entirety of the spirit of Waratah is based on the foundations of Philosopher, Bischoff, Hydro, Powerhouse, and the Dam.

So … let us build the future, the Regenerated Waratah, on those very important and substantive foundations.

For example (see diagram below):

  • Create a string of water features linking from the Fossey River via the Bischoff Reservoir, the Waratah Reservoir, the water race , the Waratah town dam,  to feed into the Waratah Falls and the Waratah River flowing to Ringtail Falls, the Old Powerhouse and circuiting the remnants of the Mt Bischoff Mine site.
  • This will require physical creation/renewal of dam sites, water races, sluice valves and other elements to ensure ongoing and sustainable water flows during drier months/seasons.
  • Install a Penstock Dam at the base of the Waratah Falls to allow controlled flow to the north and east towards an historic generator(s) aka the original power sourcing.
  • Place an historic generator, fed from the Penstock, close to the base of the Waratah Falls and visible from the current viewing points, with relevant tourist information boards re the significance of such.
  • Build a water pipeline and parallel walking track from the Penstock {and if needed a header dam) to a further historic generator located at the Old Powerhouse.
  • Refurbish the Old Powerhouse e.g. roofing, walling, remove rubbish etc to a point where it meets all Council etc safety requirements and install relevant tourist information boards.
  • Improve the current walking tracks to the Powerhouse from William Street and Mount Street to meet all relevant safety requirements of the Council/ Sustainable Timbers etc and conjointly upgrade the Ringtail Falls Bridge to similar standards.
  • Contemplate a similar pipeline from the Penstock Dam to the Tailings Dam at the back of the Mount Bischoff mine site where I understand an historic generator is still in existence with parallel walking track and tourist information boards.
  • Review whether this walking track might be able to be linked to the current linkage by foot to Mt Magnet and the Pebbles Pathway.
  • Ensure TasWater repair the damage to their unowned property (the Waratah Reservoir) at their cost.

In summary, a substantial degree of activity and civil engineering with a monumental tourism outcome rivalling Port Arthur and with a focus on the west coast.

Engineering/Business Plan/Timeframe/Cost and Way Forward

A major civil engineering company needs to urgently complete a business plan with full costings of all options and a timeframe for scrutiny and actions as outlined below

Once the full cost and business plan is achieved it would be essential to accomplish the following:

  • Ensure the Waratah community agree in principle that this proposal should be pursued;
  • Consult/negotiate with Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, Bluestone Metals X, and the WarWyn Council re maintenance/improvement activities over their designated land and concomitant liability issues;
  • Engage with the local Aboriginal community to obtain advice and consensus regarding heritage values on designated land and potential access to the Pebble Pathway;
  • Obtain WarWyn Council support for the business plan/costings at their next Council meeting;
  • The business plan and associated funding needs be submitted to both the state and federal government Ministers for Treasury, Tourism, and Infrastructure for consideration pursuant to COVID-19 economic boosting initiatives;
  • Ensure that Tourism Tasmania and all other relevant tourism authorities are fully advised and supportive;
  • Initiate an extensive media campaign to enable all relevant markets are informed, this should include social media;
  • Develop a logo/message/promotional flyer – see an example below.

Optimal Outcome

The ultimate objective of this submission is to ensure that for time immemorial Waratah is considered as having the following characteristics, viz:

  • A town/region that has the most important history in the making of the state both economically and constitutionally – a Philospher’s Dream!
  • An image of a first class tourism area that is readily accessible to all and has descriptors (information boards) that fully detail the area, the activities, the history etc.
  • The initial region on the west coast for all tourists to visit, explore, learn, and love. The entry point to those other ‘must visit’ zones of Corinna, Strahan, Queenstown, Rosebery, Zeehan and Tullah.
  • A major feature of the Western Wilds website (where Waratah history and contribution to the state is currently not mentioned) and becomes the ‘first port of call’ to the Wild West.
  • An entity that is paramount in all the advertising by Tourism Tasmania in various media and a brochure available at airports, the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, and tourist offices in the state.
  • And for those brochures/advertisements to be throughout Australia and internationally.

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Allie House quits as Waratah Wynyard councillor, calls for overhaul

Allie House’s decision to end her term on the Waratah Wynyard Council in Tasmania’s north-west has renewed a push for council amalgamations, which advocates say would improve governance and efficiency.

Ms House, 35, said she wanted to make a difference for her community.

“I went in with some pretty big plans and big expectations on how some hard work, elbow grease and a bit of brainpower would make a difference and I honestly have never felt so hopeless,” she said.

She took aim at the way councillors were expected to deal with “reams” of council papers in short timeframes.

“I often felt like elected members hadn’t read the content or didn’t understand the content and I don’t necessarily think that’s their fault,” she said.

“There are reams of papers and paperwork to get through and … we don’t have a culture where good governance is the key part of being an elected member.”

Ms House said too often councillors were treated as though they were “rubber stamps”.

“There’s an ingrained culture that [being a councillor] is more about socialising and events and lip service than it is actually knuckling down around good governance and getting good work done and making good decisions.”

Ms House was elected in 2018 and came second only to Waratah-Wynyard Mayor Robbie Walsh in primary votes, a feat Kingborough Mayor Dean Winter said was “extraordinary”.

Cr Winter, Tasmania’s youngest mayor, said Ms House’s vote showed her community was asking for change.

“The difficulty when you come in as a young person, and this was my experience, is that when you have new ideas it’s often not very well received and it can be really lonely when you don’t have support around you,” he said.

Calls for amalgamations

Former Hobart lord mayor Sue Hickey says it is critical that councillors receive more training and understand governance.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Former Hobart lord mayor Sue Hickey, now a member of State Parliament, said it was time councils were dragged “kicking and screaming” into the 21st century.

“I’m very disappointed that there hasn’t been more discussion about amalgamations because as we go forward, we’re not the horse-and-buggy day and the dial-up telephone, we really do need to be far more efficient,” she said.

In Tasmania, councillors’ salaries range from $9,500 to $37,000 with extra allowances for mayors and deputy mayors.

“Whilst ever you have so many councils and you pay so many councillors a pittance, they will treat it like a hobby,” Ms House said.

“If you want people that are going to dedicate time and effort to it, you have to pay them properly, which means that you would amalgamate councils, you would pay a reasonable amount so that it’s a professional-attracting role and that people would get in there and treat it seriously like a job instead of a little hobby on the side or a retirement pension,” she said.

Dean Winter Kingborough Mayor.
Kingborough Mayor Dean Winter said Tasmania needed many more young councillors.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Cr Winter said the State Government must step in and force mergers.

“We just don’t have the population to produce 300 elected members that have the financial acumen, the governance understanding, the intelligence to represent their community and hold a council to account properly,” he said.

“Local government will never agree to a set of reforms that are required here because it’s in their interest for it to stay the way it is.”

Cr Winter also said the small proportion of councillors in Tasmania aged under 40 was “not good enough”.

The State Government is maintaining its position of not forcing amalgamations.

Work to draft a new local government act is continuing. The Government said it would be based on principles of community engagement, good governance, transparency and accountability, and efficiency and effectiveness.

Need for support

Luke Edmunds from Clarence City Council.
Luke Edmunds wants a formal network set up to help first-time councillors.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Clarence City Councillor Luke Edmunds said being a new councillor, or being younger than the rest of the elected members, could be challenging.

“There needs to be a really thorough look at what’s discouraging people from running for local government and what can be done to support them when they’re elected,” Cr Edmunds said.

“One of those ideas could be for a formal, rather than informal, network of anyone who’s in their first term or under 45.”

Ms Hickey said training should also be provided to other councillors, and mayors should make sure elected members understood what they were voting for or against.

Ms House’s seat on the Waratah-Wynyard Council will be filled after a countback.

Waratah-Wynyard Mayor Robbie Walsh thanked Ms House for her contribution to the council and community.

“She has brought a new perspective to our council table and certainly made a positive difference in her time. I certainly hope this isn’t the last time we see Allie House in a role as an elected representative,” Cr Walsh said.

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Youth activists challenge Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine saying it impacts their human rights

In an Australian legal first, an environment group has challenged a proposed mega-coal mine on the grounds that it infringes on their human rights because of its contribution to climate change.

“The link between human rights and climate change is increasingly being seen in legal actions around the world,” David Morris, chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office, said.

“It was only a matter of time before we saw one in Australia.”

The action is being taken by a new group called Youth Verdict against the Galilee Coal Project in central Queensland — a project of Clive Palmer’s company Waratah Coal.

Youth Verdict has lodged an objection to the mine in the Queensland Land Court, arguing it infringes on a number of their rights under the state Human Rights Act, including the right to life, the protection of children and the right to culture.

Mel McAuliffe is a co-founder of Youth Verdict.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

“We’re facing a future that is increasingly uncertain, and that impacts our right to have a safe future,” Mel McAuliffe, one of the founders of Youth Verdict.

“It means we won’t have access to the same opportunities that generations before us have had.”

LNP Senator Matt Canavan said although he was not aware of the specifics of the court case, he says these sorts of challenges usually fail.

“We know from the strategies of other environmental groups that they have sought to use our court system just simply to delay projects, not necessarily to protect the environment or even win the court case,” Senator Canavan said.

“I just don’t think our court systems are set up to handle such a disputed political issue. That’s not their role and purpose and [to] try to retrofit them to this will just cause more division and angst in our community.”

‘An unsafe future’

Lily Kerley with her hair up, sitting at a table outside with her laptop open in front of her.
Lily Kerley from Youth Verdict says the case is “daunting”.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

The Galilee Coal Project involves two open pit and four underground coal mines, making it one of the biggest coal operations in Australia.

It has secured federal and state approvals but needs to be assessed by the Queensland Land Court before the final state environmental authority can be issued.

Mr Palmer and the Waratah Coal project have been approached for comment on the case but have not replied to 7.30.

Youth Verdict spokesperson Lily Kerley admits it is daunting facing a businessman who has been involved in a number of high-profile legal battles.

“But I wouldn’t say as daunting as the idea of facing an unsafe future for me and my generation,” she said.

Ms McAuliffe said: “We have no precedent for this type of action, which is new and exciting, but we don’t know what will happen.”

Human Rights Act to lead to ‘lawyers’ picnic’

Queensland’s Human Rights Act only came into effect in January.

The LNP Opposition voted against the bill in Parliament last year on the grounds that it was unnecessary.

“It is irresponsible law-making to enact a law, the practical meaning of which no-one knows,” Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki told the Legislative Assembly.

“It is therefore likely … to encourage the ensuing lawyers’ picnic.”

The LNP declined to comment on Youth Verdict’s challenge.

The Queensland Resources Council’s Ian Macfarlane said the action was “a novel attempt by a minority group of young activists to use the court system to delay and/or prevent economic development in Queensland and jobs for Queenslanders during these challenging times”.

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