Former Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan has been appointed to the Federal Government's hand-picked dam-building advisory panel.
The National Water Grid Advisory Body will be chaired by former Transurban boss Chris Lynch, whose most recent executive role was as Rio Tinto's chief financial officer.
The eight-member panel will provide guidance to the Federal Government on which water infrastructure projects to pursue with states.
CSIRO chief scientist Cathy Foley and University of NSW water professor Stuart Khan are on the body. NSW cotton and cereals farmer Elizabeth Stott and WA wheat, citrus and pork producer Sue Middleton represent the agriculture sector.
Deputy Premier Minister Michael McCormack said there needed to be a balance between environmental concerns and water infrastructure.
“We've got everybody from the world's best science available right through to people who have got skin in the game,” he told the Murray-Darling Association's conference on Monday, September 14.
Mr Ryan was Victoria's deputy premier between 2010 and 2014 and led the state Nationals for 15 years.
The advisory body also includes former Gladstone Area Water Board chief Jim Grayson and corporate advisory expert Roseanne Healy.
Mr McCormack said the panel would work with CSIRO to review the viability of the Bradfield Scheme, a 1930s-designed project to funnel water south from north Queensland.
The federal Nationals’ leader is adamant water infrastructure including dams will be key to meeting irrigation and environmental water needs.
“We've got enough water, we just need to make sure we capture it when it falls and to be able to store it in the right infrastructure,” he said.
Scientist Tim Flannery poured cold water on the plan to build major water infrastructure.
“The era of grand dam building is really over — and for good reason,” the climate change expert said.
“Building those sort of dams is a bit like building more coal-fired power plants. It harks back to an age that's now passed.”
Professor Flannery said dams aged over time, making them dangerous as they became less stable.
He said Australia's rainfall variability meant new dams would take a long time to fill, disadvantaging downstream Murray-Darling Basin communities.
National Water Grid Authority chief executive Brendan McRandle said northern Australia's high levels of evaporation meant large dams would in many cases not be the best option.
“People talk about dams or weirs as being the obvious forms of infrastructure but groundwater aquifers and groundwater recharge is a really important part of the story,” he said.
“Particularly in northern Australia, where we see very high amounts of seasonal rainfall but very high levels of evaporation, would tend to push us in the direction of groundwater as a better way of storing water.”