Tallowa Dam is unique for its massive mechanical fish lift which transports fish over the dam wall. It’s also the centrepiece of the Shoalhaven system which provides water to the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands regions, and a back-up to the Sydney and Illawarra water supplies.
Tallowa Dam’s fish lift was a first in NSW and the largest of its kind fitted to an existing dam in Australia (in 2009). The dam had been a barrier to the migration of native fish since it was built. Now, fish ride in a 2,500 litre bucket along a 30 metre track up and over the dam wall. By allowing fish to migrate between the lower and upper Shoalhaven River, the fish lift helps protect 10 native fish species, including the endangered Grayling.
Located about 160 kilometres south of Sydney, Tallowa Dam is immediately downstream of where the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven rivers meet. Tallowa Dam collects water from a 5,750 km2 catchment which extends from Kangaroo Valley in the north-east to the upper Shoalhaven River south-west of Braidwood. The dam wall is relatively shallow at 43 m but is over 500 m in length.
Construction of Tallowa Dam began in 1971 and was completed in 1976 as part of the Shoalhaven Scheme (along with the Fitzroy Falls and Wingecarribee reservoirs), a dual-purpose water transfer and hydro-electric power generation scheme.
Water from the Shoalhaven Scheme is now used to supply water to the local Southern Highlands and Goulburn communities. It can also be fed into Warragamba Dam and the Upper Nepean dams to top-up the Sydney and Illawarra water supplies. Power generation involves regular exchange of stored waters between Lake Yarrunga, Bendeela Pondage and Fitzroy Falls Reservoir.
We visited the dam on 9 April 2021. The spill across the dam wall is impressive as the dam capacity at the time was over 100%. In addition to visiting the dam wall itself, we also walked the Three Views track across the Brooks Plateau within the Morton National Park. This 10 km walk gives three unique lookouts to Lake Yarrunga, Tallowa Dam and the Shoalhaven River proving breathtaking views of the dam and the surrounding countryside.