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The Warragamba River had two important advantages as a site for a major dam. It had a large catchment area and the river flowed through a long and narrow gorge. The government could build a tall and narrow dam that could impound a vast amount of water.

Its potential was identified as early as 1845, but plans were deferred while the Upper Nepean dams were built between 1907 and 1935. An increasing demand for water from the expanding population, and a record drought from 1934 to 1942, forced the the government to develop Warragamba Dam to ensure a reliable water supply.

Constructed between 1948 and 1960, Warragamba Dam was a major engineering feat of the mid 20th Century. Workers removed more than 2,300,000 tonnes of sandstone from the site.

Concrete was mixed on site using 305,000 tonnes of cement and 2,500,000 tonnes of sand and gravel.

The dam was built in a series of interlocking concrete blocks. A system of overhead cableways lifting 18 tonne buckets was used to place the concrete.

Ice was mixed with the concrete to control the heat generated by the setting concrete and to prevent cracks forming. One of the first pre-stressed concrete towers in Australia was built to house the ice-making plant.

Warragamba Dam was designed as Sydney's main water storage dam - and one of the world's largest domestic supply dams, containing four times the volume of water of Sydney Harbour. It provides about 80 per cent of the water supply for nearly four million people in the Sydney region.

Warragamba Dam is not a flood mitigation dam and can only mitigate floods to a limited extent. If partly empty before any flood, it can store the incoming floodwaters. When full, it slows the release of floodwaters into downstream areas. In the 1961 flood - the worst since the dam was built - water coming from the Warragamba River was reduced by a quarter and delayed by several hours.

Heavy rain falling in the catchment area can overfill the dam. The dam gates begin to open gradually when the water reaches 80 millimetres above the full storage level by first the central drum gate gradually opening automatically, and if water continues rising, the four radial gates start opening at 23 centimetres above full storage level. The progressive gates help control the flow of water. They are rarely opened manually.

The dam forms Lake Burragorang and is filled by run-off from rain falling in a catchment area of more than 9,051 square kilometres. The Warragamba Catchment extends from south of Goulburn, north to Lithgow, east to Wollondilly and Mittagong, and west to part of the Crookwell local government area. The main rivers that flow into the Warragamba Dam are the Wollondilly, Coxs, Kowmung, Wingecarribee and Nattai. Once released, the water flows into the Warragamba River and then into the Hawkesbury-Nepean River.

Between 1987 and 1989 the dam wall was raised by 5 metres and strengthened using post-tensioned steel cables, tying the upper portion of the wall to its base.

To protect the dam in times of extreme floods in the catchment area, an auxiliary spillway was built on the east bank of the dam.  This was completed in June 2002.

Destinations to explore near Warragamba Dam

Photos Courtesy Scott Westlake Photography

Distance & direction from Sydney: 70 Klms E

Farnsworth Avenue, Warragamba

 Tel: 1300 722 468

Warragamba Dam

Historic Site, New South Wales


Warragamba Dam

Height: 142 metres

Length: 351 metres

Thickness at base: 104 metres

Width of central spillway: 94.5 metres

Volume of concrete: 3 million tonnes

Width of auxiliary spillway (at mouth): 190 metres

Length of auxiliary spillway: 700 metres

Lake Burragorang

Capacity: 2,031,000 megalitres

Area: 75 square kilometres

Length of lake: 52 kilometres

Length of foreshores: 354 kilometres

Maximum depth: 105 metres


Area: 9,051 square kilometres

Average annual rainfall: 840 millimetres