Australia Looks to Revive Dam Building

Australia Looks to Revive Dam Building, by Rob Taylor.

The Australian government will push a multibillion-dollar wave of dam construction to help expand food exports and hedge against climate change, a policy shift that has raised new environmental concerns.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government said Thursday that it wants to accelerate dam construction in the underdeveloped north, where seasonal deluges are offset by long arid spells. …

Postwar Australia tunneled out mountain ranges to create dams that turned the world’s driest populated continent into an agricultural powerhouse. But large dam building tapered off in Australia and elsewhere through the 1990s, when worries about the environmental impact began to outweigh demand for hydro and irrigation projects. The last large water storage built in Australia was the Paradise Dam on the Burnett River in 2005. The Snowy Mountains development, 16 major dams and power stations built over 25 years to help farm the country’s interior, was completed in 1974.

But now dam building is back in vogue globally, as rising population and climate worries drive demand for power and new irrigation projects. China is building hundreds of dams as far afield as Congo and Tibet, according to the nonprofit RiverWatch, while in Europe more than 2,000 new dams are projected across the Balkans, Turkey and Austria.

By 2020, several thousand additional hydropower plants are expected to be built across the world, RiverWatch said, with up to $120 billion being invested in new hydro plants each year.