Regular Katherine Times’ letter writer Bruce Francais has been researching existing plans for a dam on the Katherine River.
By the NT Government's own admission, the latest levee bank proposal for Katherine is a less than half-hearted effort to protect Katherine from flooding.
The government concedes that the levee banks as proposed will do nothing to save most the town from a flood the size of the 1998 flood.
They are intended primarily to prevent Tindal Creek water from flowing back into Katherine. At a recent Department of Infrastructure presentation in Katherine it was suggested that Tindal Creek was the main cause of flooding in the more recent 2006 flood. It certainly wasn't the main cause of flooding in 1998.
The levee banks as proposed would sacrifice the Katherine Hospital and most of the Katherine Township for the sake of saving some houses in Katherine South.
Most of the residential area in Katherine East is already above the 1998 flood level.
The levee banks would cost approximately $4 million.
Increasing the height of existing levee banks on the river has frequently been discussed but the idea has been discarded. One of the reasons for this is that flood water diverted away from the Katherine township would further inundate properties on the northern side of the river.
Flood mitigation concerns have been the topic of discussion in Katherine for many years now. Back in the 1970's there was a great deal of talk about a dam being constructed on the Katherine River at Eva Valley Station upstream from the Katherine Gorge.
The Snowy Mountains Authority did an extensive amount of work on assessing the viability of a dam on the Katherine River. The proposal was placed on the back-burner however, largely as a result of environmental concerns and bad publicity for dams related to the Franklin River Dam project in Tasmania.
Katherine at the time was in the Electorate of Elsey. The Member for Elsey was Mr Les MacFarlane. Les strongly pushed for the construction of the dam on the Katherine River.
I suspect that if Les had not been dumped by the CLP and had remained in office, he would have ensured that the dam was built. If it had been built of course, Katherine would not have been devastated by the flood in 1998.
It was generally believed at the time that what was referred to as the Berrimah Line syndrome played a role in the dam not being built. The government was being run primarily for the benefit of Darwin suburbia, with very little emphasis on development down the track. Today there is a greater recognition of the fact that the wealth of the Territory is generated in regional areas.
A dam on the Katherine River would serve for flood mitigation and water for agriculture. It was said at the time that hydro-power would be a distinct possibility. The controlled release of water throughout the year would enable a stronger water flow in the Katherine Gorge during the latter months of the dry season, thus providing greater access for tourists.
For many years now there has been a great deal of talk about northern development with the region being a food bowl for Asia. Food of course can't be produced without water. There has been discussion in recent times about the need for more dams to be built in the north, with the Fitzroy River in Western Australia and rivers in northern Queensland being mentioned, together with another dam for the Darwin area. Surely it is now time for the NT Government to begin lobbying the Federal Government to fund a dam on the Katherine River.
Uncontaminated water is necessary for Katherine and of course for Tindal RAAF Base. With the RAAF base being so essential for Australia's defence needs, it would certainly be in the Defence Department's best interests to ensure that Katherine and Tindal have a plentiful supply of fresh PFAS free water.
In the mid 1980’s when some Katherine residents were expressing concerns about a large military installation being built in the region, the Defence Department did its utmost to allay public concerns. A Defence spokesperson stated that the Department wanted Tindal to be a good neighbour for Katherine. Contaminating Katherine’s water supply with PFAS is certainly not good neighbourly conduct. The Defence Department itself should now live up to its good neighbour commitment and actively support the dam proposal, after all it would be very much for its own benefit.
It was estimated that a dam on the Katherine River would provide a body of water about half the size of Lake Argyle. It would be a shallower dam than Lake Argyle and it was said at the time that a high evaporation rate would be a problem. Considering the flood mitigation purpose for such a dam, with water being intentionally released during the dry season, this would not present a problem. A dam like this would be of enormous economic benefit as a recreational lake for the Jawoyn people on whose land it would be located.
The levee banks as recently proposed are intended primarily to keep Tindal Creek water out of Katherine. This creek banks up when the Katherine River is at a high level. If the Katherine River is kept at a moderate level as a result of a dam, with the aid of a suitable drain the problem of Tindal Creek water would be minimized.
There may be valid reasons why a dam on the Katherine River should not or cannot be built but with the problems being faced at the moment, the matter should be given further consideration. Probably the biggest hurdle to be faced today is the fact that the area that would be inundated is Native Title. This was not the case of course when the dam was first proposed. Should a feasibility study be conducted, it would be essential for Native Title holders to be involved with the study right from the outset.
The mere suggestion of damming rivers brings objections from some people. The Greens Party of course would be likely to object. In the driest continent earth however, all of our large cities and many smaller towns are reliant on dams for their water supply. A dam on the Katherine River would bring huge benefits for the region. A dam would be vastly more expensive to construct than single purpose levee banks. A dam however would be multi –purpose. With Tindal RAAF Base requiring a reliable source of clean water it is most likely that the Federal Government would assist with funding..
If this dam had been built when it was first proposed, it is likely that it would have been named the Kekwick Dam in honour of John Kekwick, John McDouall Stuart’s right hand man during the explorer’s journeys through Central Australia.
Bruce Francais, Katherine.