What was wrong with the Swansea Dam?
Shortly after the Swansea Dam was completed in 2009, seepage issues were discovered. While every dam seeps to some degree, the amount of seepage was deemed a risk and following an investigation a decision was made to lower the water level in the dam, to reduce the pressure placed on the structure.
The leaking could have been occurring in several different locations, so TasWater took the decision to completely replace the dam's clay liner, effectively resealing the dam's entire inside surface, including some locations that had no previously been sealed at all.
Will there be more water restrictions for Swansea?
Possibly. As the Swansea Dam gradually refills, there is a risk of water restrictions if weather conditions are extremely dry. Ultimately, all water supplies rely on rainfall.
However, TasWater has reached an agreement with Tasmanian Irrigation and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment that enables us to access our existing allocation of water from the Swan River, via the back-up storage of the Melrose Dam. This is a prudent step to maintain Swansea's water security and to reduce the risk of water restrictions as much as possible.
Will TasWater customers in Swansea pay more for water because of the dam repair?
TasWater’s state wide approach means its resources can be deployed anywhere in Tasmania based on need, without additional charges.
Why has it taken so long to fix the Swansea Dam?
TasWater acknowledges that we could have acted more quickly.
Unfortunately, the history of the Swansea Dam coincides with a nearly constant period of reform in Tasmania’s water sector. This dam’s construction was overseen by Hobart Water, the dam was then managed by Southern Water and TasWater took responsibility for fixing it. While not an excuse for inactivity, this near-constant period of change and staff turnover made it very difficult to maintain a consistent approach in this case.
TasWater faces a huge challenge in Tasmania, with an enormous number of dams and other assets to manage in comparison to the small size of our population. We must spread our available resources throughout the entire state. The Swansea Dam has been one project among many competing priorities.
We know this has frustrating for many people, but the fact is that despite the water restrictions of 2015-16, Swansea has continued to have a stable supply of drinking water from the Swan River and that it does take time to fix a dam properly.
How big is the Swansea Dam?
The Swansea Dam has a capacity of 470 megalitres, which is more than twice Swansea’s annual requirement of 185 megalitres.
How much water does Swansea use from the Swan River each year?
Swansea requires around 185 megalitres of drinking water per year, with a peak useage of one megalitre per day during the summer tourist season.
TasWater’s annual extraction from the Swan River has been less than 1 per cent of its annual flows. On average, TasWater extracts around 180-200 megalitres of water from the Swan River per year. In comparison, during a peak rainfall event in January 2016 over 30,000 megalitres of water passed downstream from TasWater’s extraction point.
The conditions placed on our water licence put a priority on the supply of drinking water from the Swan River, above all other uses, while also seeking to maintain the health of the river.
If the Swan River slows or stops flowing, as it did in 2013 and 2015, this will be due to drought. During these times, TasWater is not permitted to extract from the river and relies on the dam to supply our customers. This is the purpose for which the Swansea Dam was designed.
Will TasWater start extracting water from the Meredith River?
This is being considered. It will depend on the amount of rainfall and what water is available.
TasWater is licensed by the Department of Primary Industry Parks Wildlife and the Environment to draw water from the Swan River year round, and from the Meredith River only during its peak, relatively brief, seasonal flows during late autumn, winter and spring. In the ongoing absence of regular, reliable flows in the Meredith River there will likely always be a need to source some drinking water from the Swan River, which is a far more reliable supply.
The Meredith River's seasonal flows deliver very large amounts of water very quickly. While the Swansea Dam was being managed at a low level to ensure its safety, TasWater acted to reduce any safety risk by avoiding any sudden influx of water. Hence, the Meredith River was not used to harvest water while the dam needed repair.
What is TasWater doing about unauthorised connections to the Swan River?
Management of the Swan River is the responsibility of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE), which grants licences to TasWater and other users.
If you are concerned about unauthorised connections to the Swan River, contact DPIPWE on 1300 368 550.