Water-saving options, such as reuse and rainwater tank collection, ‘may be the way of the future’, says Ballina mayor and new chair of Rous Water, Phillip Silver.
Silver predicts the controversial Dunoon dam proposal will be shelved in favour of ‘serious demand management and alternative sources’.
He told the Northern Rivers Echo last week that the regional water authority, which supplies the shires of Lismore, Byron and Ballina, had reached ‘a fork in the road’ in terms of future water security.
Cr Silver, a longtime member and leader of the authority, said population across the region had almost doubled in ten years yet water consumption had remained fairly static.
‘So on a per capita or per household basis it has reduced substantially,’ he said.
Cr Silver said the cost of a new dam, precedents preventing their being built in NSW and Queensland, and ‘all indicators point to the alternative to the dam.
‘And we are one of the wettest areas in the country, we should be able to manage without another dam.’
Tweed Greens Cr Katie Milne took Cr Silver’s pitch further, saying the Tweed now has the ‘perfect opportunity’ to stave off the need for any future dams by introducing dual-reticulation options for water reuse in greenfield site developments.
Cr Milne says the Tweed currently has two of the biggest approved subdivisions in Australia at Cobaki and Kings Forest and the dual-reticulation (or three-pipe) system to recycle greywater for toilet and outdoor garden use ‘could and should be mandated’.
Cr Silver said further demand management, dual reticulation of reclaimed water and better use of rainwater tanks, especially in industrial areas, combined with drawing from local waterway flows, allowed the council areas to meet demand expected by foreseeable future population growth.
Last month, a narrow majority of Tweed councillors voted down an option to double current water storage capacity at the existing Clarrie Hall Dam after the contentious Byrrill Creek dam proposal was earlier also narrowly voted down, leaving a no-dams option for council.
The councillors who had supported the Byrrill Creek dam option, Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Kevin Skinner, had been joined in the blocking move by Cr Joan van Lieshout, who abstained from the Byrrill Creek vote citing a conflict of interest because her family owns land that would be affected.
Cr Dot Holdom accused the four of being ‘gutless’ and ‘holding the shire to ransom’ by stopping any move to secure water supply.
Mayor Longland’s bid to hold a workshop to explore ways of saving water on new developments was also voted down by the same four councillors.
Rous Water, like Tweed Shire Council, has been investigating water supply options for the past few years, a process which has cost ratepayers almost $1 million.
It resulted in a community working group and staff recommendation for the option to raise the walls of the existing Clarrie Hall Dam.
Cr Milne said council could have mandated for dual reticulation in new developments in its own demand management strategy ‘but we didn’t’. However she says council should still keep trying to make water conservation measures compulsory in new developments.
‘We’re losing our one perfect opportunity to do this as these massive new developments [at Cobaki and Kings Forest for 10,000 new homes] are being approved; it’s slipping away on our watch, there won’t be another such opportunity if we don’t.
‘We should be able to negotiate an outcome with [developer] Leda and Bob Ell, so they use a three-pipe system to enable recycled water for toilets and outdoor use at this stage, and it can be improved in later stages of the development,’ she said.
No recycle provision
The Joint Regional Planning Panel recently gave the green light to the first 900-odd homes at Cobaki but made no provision for dual reticulation, which Cr Milne says would negate the need for any new dam.
‘The Tweed caldera is an internationally significant area, and not having dual reticulation further necessitates the need for any dam, which would impact on World Heritage values of the area.’
Cr Holdom said the council’s support for a dam project should be based on science rather than politics.
And she said misinformation was being spread around the shire by councillors who had done little research on the issue, with old council documents showing that in the 1970s councillors chose Clarrie Hall Dam over Byrrill Creek after exhaustive research.
‘Those old documents showed me that the councillors back then were very forward thinking. Unfortunately there is so much misinformation out there now that people won’t know what to think,’ she said.