Keeping our dams safe in emergencies – even earthquakes

Protecting essential infrastructure

Dams play a crucial role in many communities across New South Wales, and we are dedicated to using our knowledge of nature, science and engineering to protect this essential infrastructure.

As the operators of 41 dams across the state, including Warragamba Dam, we supply water to regional towns and councils, farmers and the Greater Sydney region. And with this comes immense responsibility.

To keep the communities in which we operate protected and resilient, we have a team of dedicated experts made up of dam safety specialists, on-site maintenance technicians, engineers, catchment protectors, hydrologists and scientists who vigilantly monitor our infrastructure and the water we store, year-round.

Our dams are built to withstand the most extreme weather events or emergencies, and our team of experts are always on standby, ready to respond in the event of severe weather, natural disasters or other emergencies that may impact our catchments.

Aerial view of Warragamba

On Friday 8 March 2024, our teams and seismic response protocols were put to the test when a magnitude 3.6 earthquake occurred nine kilometres beneath the surface of the Blue Mountains National Park near Warragamba.

Ronan Magaharan, Executive Manager Operations at WaterNSW said:

“Although it’s rare to feel earth tremors, they do happen across NSW, and seismic activity is one of the many parameters our teams monitor utilising a combination of ‘felt reports’ and data received from the Geoscience Australia monitoring network.”

Warragamba response

Our Warragamba Dam Safety Team got straight into action following the tremor, conducting a range of safety checks in line with WaterNSW’s Dam Safety Emergency Plan. This included visual inspections of the dam’s walls and utilising sensory instruments to assess the dam level, river flow and pipeline flows.

In the minutes following the earthquake, the WaterNSW Dam Safety team were able to quickly assess any potential threat to our dams in the impacted area, further refining our assessment of the event as more information came to hand from Geoscience Australia.

“This tremor was well within the tolerances of our dams, so fortunately, in line with our expectations for a smaller seismic event such as this, our teams detected no changes to any of the infrastructure,. It was therefore determined there was no immediate threat or risk to the surrounding community,” Mr Magaharan said.

As a precaution, further inspections were conducted the following day at Warragamba Dam and Prospect Reservoir, along with dams in the Upper Nepean and Blue Mountains.

The nature of our organisation means we are working on the frontline of a changing climate.

The recent Blue Mountains earthquake was just one instance of a natural occurrence that the dams have been built to withstand.

“Our teams are experts in keeping our dams and the community safe and are well-equipped to respond to the next inevitable weather event, protecting our state’s essential source of water now and into the future,” continued Mr Magaharan.

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Published date: 18 March 2024

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WaterNSW acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we work and pay our respects to all elders past, present and emerging. Learn more