The damned dam debate is back


Known only to live on two rivers in Queensland, the lungfish has survived for millions of years but its existence is now threatened by the Traveston Crossing dam proposed for the Mary River. Posselt is appalled that his water engineering colleagues consider it more important to pump clean drinking water to Brisbane so people can wash their cars and water their lawns with it, than protecting the last breeding grounds of this living fossil.

Because of his background, people listen. This is someone who has spent their lives planning dams and pipelines; Steve talks the lingo of the professional town planner.

This interstate journey is not the first time the fifty something activist has taken up the paddle to draw attention to the plight of a river. In May 2007 he set off from Brisbane in his amphibious kayak and headed up the Brisbane River, over the Great Divide and down the Darling and Murray Rivers to South Australia. After paddling 2,200 kilometers and dragging the kayak for another thousand he became more convinced than ever that we have no idea what we are doing when it comes to water management and, worse still, have learned almost nothing from our mistakes.

We consider crayfish stupid because they never learn to avoid the craypot, no matter how often they’re caught. For all our mental superiority, we appear to be as stupid.

Last October, the people of Tyalgum protested in the streets of Murwillumbah about the proposed damming of the Oxley River. Jeering motorists that day echoed Max Boyd at the Mur’bah Civic Centre a fortnight earlier, “Put people on level 5 water restrictions and they’ll demand a dam. You just can’t get around the fact that people need water.”

The crayfish cannot resist the scent of the bait.

I asked Steve Posselt the same question I put to Max a year ago. Why can’t we reduce demand by capturing the water that falls on our rooves, and recycling the water we do use?

Max believes this is idealistic nonsense. Steve believes that it’s not only possible, it’s absolutely necessary. There’s simply not enough water flowing in the rivers to fill the dams that we have now, let alone any new ones that people are proposing. All over Australia, existing dams are at their lowest levels in decades. New dams cannot produce extra water.

Steve believes the problem is the attitude that we can take resources from one place, use what we need and throw the rest away. Unless we learn to live in harmony with nature we are doomed, he said.

When engineers sprout green philosophy and sitting politicians defect to the Greens there is a seismic shift afoot. Watch this space.

Steve’s website,, contains more details about his journeys and the lungfish of the Mary River.

You can hear Giovanni on Bay FM 99.9 this morning from 9 until 11.

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