AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Has Barnaby Joyce stopped Tamworth running out of water?

By Brian Kelly, Tiffanie Turnbull, James Lane and Louise Evans

The Statement

“If we hadn’t extended Chaffey Dam here in Tamworth, this city would have run out of water.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce. May 7, 2019.

The Analysis

New England MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce took part in a live pub forum in Tamworth where he said water infrastructure was critical to driving jobs and growth in his northern NSW region. He cited the Chaffey Dam upgrade as proof he can deliver government funding for infrastructure projects. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Joyce’s claim Tamworth would have run dry if Chaffey Dam had not been upgraded.

Tamworth is the largest city in the northern NSW federal electorate of New England which was Country/National Party heartland from federation until 2001, when it was lost to Independent Tony Windsor. Former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce won the seat in 2013 and has a margin of 16.4 per cent. [2]

In December 2017, Mr Joyce had to contest a by-election for his own seat after the High Court disqualified him from parliament for being a dual citizen. In February 2019, he stepped down as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister after separating from his wife and having a relationship and a child with his former media adviser. [3]

A ReachTEL poll commissioned by Fairfax Media in February 2019 showed Mr Joyce’s personal dramas had caused his primary vote to drop to 43 per cent from 65 per cent when he won the December by-election. [4]

Water restrictions and drought are major election issues in Mr Joyce’s New England electorate. Real-time Department of Primary Industries data shows the Tamworth region is classed as being in "drought". Nearby Armidale, which also forms part of the electorate, is classed as having "intense drought". [5]

Tamworth Regional Council announced the city moved to Level 4 water restrictions on Monday, May 6. [6]

Level four is the second most severe water use category, one short of level five "emergency”. At level four, residential outdoor use of town water is banned, pools cannot be filled or topped up and councils cease to irrigate parks, gardens and sporting grounds. [7]

Chaffey Dam, 43km south-east of Tamworth on the Peel River, was built in the 1970s.

It was upgraded in two stages to increase storage capacity from 62 gigalitres (GL) to 100 gigalitres. Stage one was finished in 2011. Stage two was opened in May 2016 by Mr Joyce, then federal water minister. [8] [9]

The upgraded Chaffey Dam began to fill quickly during the winter and spring of 2016 when there was “very high” rainfall of 280.8mm in Tamworth in winter, up from the average of 140.1, and “high” rainfall of 220.2mm, up from the 184.3 average in spring, according to Bureau of Meteorology data. [10] [11]

Annual 2016 rainfall for Tamworth was high with 785.6mm or 22 per cent above average for the region. [12]

Annual rainfall for 2017 was “average” followed by “very low” in 2018 dropping to 378.6mm or 60 per cent of the 631.9mm average. [13] [14]

The decreasing rainfall was reflected in Chaffey Dam levels. It reached full capacity in late October 2016 but started to drop below 90 per cent in November 2017. The water level has been steadily decreasing ever since and on May 8 was 25.3 per cent. [15]

Since the dam reached capacity in October 2016, approximately 75 per cent of the water has been used. That equates to about 75 GL or 2.4 GL a month over 31 months since October 2016.

At the rate of use of 2.4gl per month, at full capacity the water in the 62gl dam before it was upgraded would have only lasted almost 26 months, running out of water five months ago.

Five months ago was December 2018 meaning Tamworth could have faced a dry Christmas.

AAP FactCheck concludes based on this evidence Mr Joyce’s claim that Tamworth would have run dry if the Chaffey Dam had not been upgraded is mostly true. The only problem is that if this scenario had played out, water restrictions would have been implemented to slow the rate of use to make the dam water last longer.

The Verdict

  • Mostly True - Mostly accurate but there is a minor error or problem.

The References

1. ‘Paul Murray Live on Facebook’, Sky News TV. May 7, 2019: https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/1125728481227075584

2. 'Australia Votes: New England', ABC News, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/news/elections/federal/2019/guide/neng/

3. 'Barnaby Joyce knew last year Vikki Campion's pregnancy would mean he had to step down as deputy PM', by Louise Yaxley. ABC News. June 4, 2018: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-03/joyce-and-campion-reveal-pregnancy-timeline-in-$150k-interview/9825208

4. 'Poll shows a third of voters who backed Barnaby Joyce last December have now deserted him', by Michael Koziol. The Sydney Morning Herald. February 15, 2018: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/poll-shows-a-third-of-voters-who-backed-barnaby-joyce-last-december-have-now-deserted-him-20180214-p4z0aq.html

5. 'Combined Drought Indicator'. Department of Primary Industries. May 9, 2019: https://edis.dpi.nsw.gov.au/

6. 'Current Water Restrictions'. Tamworth Regional Council. May 6, 2019: http://www.tamworth.nsw.gov.au/Water-and-Sewerage/Water-Restrictions/Current-Water-Restrictions/Current-Water-Restrictions

7. 'What the Levels Mean'. Tamworth Regional Council: http://www.tamworth.nsw.gov.au/Water-and-Sewerage/Water-Restrictions/What-The-Levels-Mean/What-the-Levels-Mean/default.aspx#Level-4

8. 'Chaffey Dam Upgrade'. Reinforced Earth Sustainable Technology. https://www.reco.com.au/civil-and-military/coastal-harbours/project-case-studies/item/125-chaffey-dam-upgrade.html

9. ‘Regional and agriculture water project enthusiasts are excited by renewed’, by Sarina Locke. ABC. May 17, 2016: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2016-05-16/dam-projects-receive-boost/7417602

10. 'New South Wales in winter 2016: Warmest winter nights since 1973'. Bureau of Meteorology. September 1, 2016 (Tamworth Airport): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/season/nsw/archive/201608.summary.shtml

11. 'New South Wales in spring 2016: A cool spring for NSW'. Bureau of Meteorology. December 1, 2016 (Tamworth Airport): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/season/nsw/archive/201611.summary.shtml

12. 'New South Wales in 2016: Wet in the west with record-warm nights'. Bureau of Meteorology. January 5, 2017 (Tamworth Airport): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/annual/nsw/archive/2016.summary.shtml

13. 'New South Wales in 2017: warmest on record'. Bureau of Meteorology. January 9, 2018 (Tamworth Airport): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/annual/nsw/archive/2017.summary.shtml

14. 'New South Wales in 2018: warmest year on record, very dry'. Bureau of Meteorology. January 10, 2019 (Tamworth Airport): http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/annual/nsw/archive/2018.summary.shtml

15. 'Current Dam Levels'. Tamworth Regional Council. May 9, 2019: http://www.tamworth.nsw.gov.au/Water-and-Sewerage/Water-Supplies/Current-Dam-Levels/Current-Dam-Levels

  • First published May 10, 2019 16:12 AEST