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Locking in water security for Wilcannia

The NSW Government is taking steps to commence work on the largest investment in water infrastructure along the Darling-Baaka River in decades with the delivery of a $76.1 million new state-of-the-art weir and fishway for Wilcannia.

First announced in 2018, slow progress on the new Wilcannia Weir has left the community frustrated and exposed to ongoing water security issues. With renewed effort and focus from the NSW Government, work on the Wilcannia Weir Replacement Project is finally making progress and will deliver safer and more reliable town water thanks to funding from the NSW and Australian Governments.

The fixed crest weir will be located 5 kilometres downstream of the existing failed weir and will have a crest of approximately 4.2 metres with the highest points on the outer edges being approximately 5.5 metres. This will boost water storage by 20 percent. Unlike the existing structure, which was hand built with rocks in 1942, the new weir will also include a fishway to enable native fish to migrate upstream.

The decision to move to a new design was shaped by the responses to the public exhibition of the Environmental Impact Statement in 2022, and further stakeholder consultation and feedback. The new design improves water security for Wilcannia by adding an additional 400 ML to the weir pool, while also being safer with less impact on the environment.

Importantly, the new design allows for the weir to be modified in the future if required, including raising its height or adding a gate. Community feedback has made it clear that aspirations for a higher wall remain widespread. This stage 2 work would require additional funding as well as further planning approval so, in the meantime, our priority is to get on with delivering stage 1 of the new weir along with a new bore and an upgraded water treatment plant, which will significantly improve water security for Wilcannia.

In response to concerns raised about the extent of community engagement, face-to-face community consultation continued in February and March and contractors Jacobs Group and GHD Engineering were on the ground last month doing test excavations and surveys for culturally significant objects under close supervision from Recognised Aboriginal Parties (RAPs).

While consultation and planning approvals for the new weir are being worked through, other aspects of the wider project are continuing, including upgrades to the Hood and Martin Street sewage pump stations which are now complete to better protect the Darling-Baaka River.

The stormwater mitigation works have delivered a low-maintenance, affordable and reliable solution to protect against effluent overflows in the event of a power failure or blockage.

Construction on the new Wilcannia Weir and fishway will begin in early 2025, with completion expected in 2026. Early works, including the Community River Place, which is being co-designed with the Wilcannia community, are anticipated to start in late 2024.

Quotes attributable to Rose Jackson, NSW Minister for Water:

"I have listened to the community carefully, and I have heard their concerns about the revised design, but I want to reassure them, the NSW and Australian Governments remain absolutely committed to delivering a new weir that will lock in water security for Wilcannia for generations to come.

“The most important thing for me is getting the project moving, I can understand community frustration at the limited progress since 2018. While I am determined to get started, I also recognise the work can be delivered in stages. That’s why I have instructed my department to ensure the design has scope for further upgrades, including raising the weir wall down the track if needed.

“I recognise there is a deep lack of trust within the Wilcannia community towards government. The reality is the project has taken far too long to get to this point so, I want to be clear about what I am proposing to deliver, when it will be delivered, and then deliver on that commitment for the community. The time has come to fast track getting shovels in the ground which is exactly what I am doing.”

Town of Wilcannia.
A $76.1 million new state-of-the-art weir and fishway for Wilcannia.