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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Residents urged to save water as both dam plans ditched

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[author]Steve Spencer[/author]

Tweed residents have been urged to start saving water following last week’s shock decision by a majority of councillors to torpedo a move to boost the shire’s water storage.

Mayor Barry Longland fears a drought could be catastrophic for the shire, which now has 30,000 more people than when the Tweed last suffered a water crisis in 2002–3.

Those two years of drought saw the Clarrie Hall Dam’s water level drop to below 30 per cent and water restrictions inflicted on the Tweed’s 60,000-odd residents.

‘Now we have 90,000 people and a drought could happen to us again,’ warned Cr Longland, who is still stunned by his fellow councillors’ vote not to raise the Clarrie Hall Dam wall following the vote which scuttled the Byrrill Creek dam proposal.

‘It’s not a dead issue and I hope raising the dam wall option will come back before the council again soon.’

Cr Longland said there was an urgent need to raise the dam wall to safeguard against a prolonged drought, possibly aggravated by global warming.

‘People who don’t want any more dam infrastructure are ignoring the possibility climate change will cause more dry years. We need to insulate ourselves against climate change,’ he said.

‘We should look at every way possible to reduce our water usage.’

Cr Longland used his casting vote to overturn council’s support for the controversial Byrrill Creek dam plan after Cr Joan van Lieshout abstained from the debate citing a conflict of interest, leading to a three-all deadlocked vote. Minutes later, Cr Lieshout decided to vote against raising the Clarrie Hall Dam wall, despite telling media beforehand she believed the shire needed ‘water security’ and that she would probably lean towards raising the existing dam wall.

‘Holding the shire to ransom’

Cr Dot Holdom accused the four councillors (Crs van Lieshout, Warren Polglase, Kevin Skinner and Phil Youngblutt) who voted against raising the dam wall of ‘holding the shire to ransom’.

‘What they did was totally irresponsible,’ she said.

‘In 2008 seven people were elected to the Tweed Council and were given a responsibility to secure the water supply. Four people have negated their responsibility. I find that gutless in the extreme.’

Cr Holdom said she had lived in central western NSW and knew the reality of prolonged droughts, but said the damming of the Byrrill Creek valley was not needed yet.

‘Byrrill Creek is a great water catchment. Whether it is dammed or not the water from there ends up at Bray Park weir. It would be like baking another loaf of bread when you have only eaten a few slices of your first loaf.’

Cr Katie Milne hopes shire residents can become so water conscious that no new dam projects will be needed.

‘There is great merit in refusing either dam, despite the fact that the councillors opposed to the Clarrie Hall upgrade sat blankly in response to my question on whether they had received even one shred of professional advice that recommended they override the council staff preferred option of Clarrie Hall,’ she said.

‘We should be investigating every possibility to maximise water conservation options. The best way to save water is in new developments, but we have to get this infrastructure mandated now, before it’s too late.

‘It was extremely obstructionist of the councillors who voted down Clarrie Hall to also refuse the mayor’s proposal for a workshop on dual reticulation in new developments, including recycled water for toilets and outdoor use.’

Cr Milne said it was the first time a fellow councillor has expressed interest in finding out more about dual reticulation, and the same councillors who voted against the dam upgrade voted against the workshop.

‘It’s time the defenders of Clarrie Hall read the reports and realise that we are not far from meeting our water demand, even with council’s ultra-conservative predictions.

With a little extra effort it seems that avoiding either project could be entirely possible, especially with greater water technology in the future.

‘The only way to resolve this question is with a review by an organisation such as the Institute of Sustainable Futures at Sydney University that reviewed the Traveston and Tillegra dams. I will again be putting up a ­motion for such a review to the next council meeting. I hope councillors see that these dam projects, predicted to cost about $100 million of ratepayers money by the time they are paid off, warrant such an independent review.’

Cr Longland said he wasn’t an advocate of dual reticulation but wanted to know more about it.

‘The purpose of the workshop was to inform me and other councillors what are the engineering problems and will they make the technology too expensive for our new housing developments,’ he said.

Cr Warren Polglase, who also voted against raising the wall, predicted there would be no solution to the stalemate until a new council was elected in 10 months.

He said Cr van Lieshout had indicated her support to the Byrrill Creek proposal by voting against raising the dam wall.

‘There is majority support for the Byrrill Creek dam in council but because of the perceived conflict of interest, a councillor was not able to vote for the proposal and that gave the mayor the right to use his casting vote,’ said Cr Polglase.

‘If three councillors are against something there must be four councillors for the other thing. Cr van Lieshout has voiced concern about needing to increase the Tweed’s water supply and the potential need to supply other shires with water.’

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