Supplied photo made available Friday, March 2, 2012 of the Cotter Dam in Canberra overflowing on Thursday, March 1, 2012. The dam, built in 1912, is completely submerged for the first time in its history. (AAP Image/ACTEW) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

This is how many dams have really been built in Australia since 1984

AAP FactCheck December 18, 2019

The Statement

With Australia in the grip of a severe drought, a Facebook post ponders why water supplies are low and claims the nation’s last dam was built in 1984.

The December 14 post by an Australian user features the headline: ÔÇ£LAST DAM BUILT IN AUSTRALIA 1984ÔÇØ. The post’s text reads: 

ÔÇ£Population of Australia 1984 15.5 million

ÔÇ£Population of Australia 2018 25 million 


The post has been shared more than 5900 times and attracted more than 60 reactions and 60 comments.

A December 14, 2019 post claims it has been 35 years since a dam was last built in Australia.

The Analysis

According to the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD), Australia has more than 500 large dams, with 136 of those completed between 1985 and 2011. 

On a state-by-state basis, 14 dams were built in NSW during that period, two in Victoria, four in South Australia, 45 in Queensland, 40 in Tasmania, 23 in Western Australia, one in the Northern Territory and seven in the ACT.

ANCOLD is an Australian-based voluntary association created in 1937 to advance dams capability and knowledge in Australia. It is also a member of the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD). 

ANCOLD’s dams register shows Wyaralong Dam in southeast Queensland as the last completed new build in 2011.

Cotter Dam, in the Australian Capital Territory, submerged by heavy water flows during construction work in 2012.

Cotter Dam in the ACT was listed as ÔÇ£enlargedÔÇØ by ANCOLD in 2012. The Cotter Dam expansion, completed in 2013, involved the construction of a new 83 metre-high wall 125 metres downstream from an original dam which had been built in 1915 and undergone a number of enlargements itself.

Further evidence of dam building since 1984 came from federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud in a September 17, 2019 radio interview.

Radio 3AW announcer Neil Mitchell quoted from Mr Littleproud’s September 16 media release, which said that since 2003, 20 dams had been completed in Australia – 16 of them in Tasmania, two in New South Wales, one in Queensland and one in the ACT. 

Responding to a question on whether Australia needs to build dams, Mr Littleproud said the states had failed to match water storage with population growth since 2003 and that, at the current rate, water storage per person will fall by more than 30 per cent by 2030.

The minister was also reported by The Land newspaper as saying the past 19 years showed that of the 20 dams completed in Australia since 2003, 16 were in Tasmania.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found to the Facebook post to be false. Data from the Australian National Committee on Large Dams shows 136 dams were built in Australia between 1985 to 2011. Additionally federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud has issued a media release which states that 20 dams have been built since 2003.

False – The primary claim of the content is factually inaccurate. 

First published December 18, 2019, 18:39 AEDT

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