The controversial issue of dams in the Tweed has once again come under sharp focus with a parliamentary inquiry set to look into whether there’s a need for more to be built around the state.
The announcement this week came as anti-dam campaigners moved, three months out from September’s council elections, to raise awareness among Tweed voters and shire managers for water saving and recycling to avoid having to build any new dam or boosting the existing one.
The Upper House’s standing committee on state development is calling for public input till 3 August for the inquiry, which will look into proposals for the construction and/or boosting of water storages in NSW.
Primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson referred the inquiry to the committee.
Committee chairman MLC Rick Colless says its focus is in ‘balancing water needs for agricultural, urban, industrial and environmental purposes’ and it would also ‘examine the capacity of existing water storages and models for determining water requirements’ for those needs.
Tomorrow and Saturday, Tweed-based Northern Rivers Guardians (NRG) and the Caldera Environment Centre are holding workshops for the public, councillors and shire managers on water-wise options for the Tweed, featuring a leading expert in the field from Sydney.
Dr Andrzej Listowski was behind the integrated water cycle scheme set up for Sydney’s Olympic Park, a showcase of water management using stormwater harvesting, onsite water treatment and recycling to service a population of around 20,000 people.
Tweed Shire Council last month narrowly voted to place a moratorium on planning for any new dam at Byrrill Creek, but rejected a move to raise the Clarrie Hall Dam wall instead, keeping both dam options for boosting future water supplies off the table.
A ‘14-week wonder’
But pro-dam councillor Warren Polglase warned the moratorium would be a ‘fourteen-week wonder’, suggesting it would be shot down soon after the September poll by a pro-development majority.
The Clarrie Hall option was recommended by a community working group (CWG) and council staff two years ago before it was replaced by the Byrrill Creek dam option by previous mayor Kevin Skinner using his casting vote.
The Clarrie Hall option was resurrected last year by his successor, Cr Barry Longland, who ironically also had to use his casting vote, and last month he used it again to install the ban on any new dam.
Greens councillor Katie Milne, who drew flak from the mayor for not supporting his move for the Clarrie Hall option, says she will support raising its wall if a council report recommends it.
But the Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy report is not due for at least six months, by which time a new council would have been elected and the issue would be on the table again.
Intending council candidates are being urged to attend Saturday’s free public water-wise workshop, to be held at the Red Cross Hall in Knox Park, Murwillumbah, from 9.30am to 12.30pm.
CWG member Joanna Gardner said, ‘anyone considering standing for council will be well advised to come along, because water management will be one of the first things they will have to decide’.
Ms Gardner said community groups and business chambers had also been urged to ‘spread the word’ about the workshop and ‘we especially hope private consultants and developers come along and get inspired’.
‘Water conservation is a major issue of our time. Lots of people have concerns about Tweed’s water planning,’ she said.
‘Dr Listowski will present the most up-to-date options available to help us make the best decisions for a sustainable future.’
The workshop, also featuring environmental engineer Duncan Thompson from planning consultancy Geolink, will follow a similar briefing today with councillors, new general manager David Keenan and council staff.
Inquiry head Mr Colless said, ‘access to and security of water resources is one of the most important concerns for many communities and industries throughout NSW’.
‘Without secure water storages, these communities and industries may be unable to develop and may, in some cases, struggle to survive.
‘Over the last 15 years there have been many changes to the demands placed on water, particularly with the implementation of environmental flows resulting in significant changes to storage management procedures and water pricing structures. It is important that these issues be carefully examined when making recommendations in relation to the adequacy of water-storage capacities.’
Cr Milne has long believed the shire doesn’t need more or larger dams if water-saving options are implemented.
But she says pro-dam councillors and others have resisted exploring water conservation, recycling and dual-reticulation to reduce water demand.
She says using wastewater (via dual reticulation) for gardens and toilets would reduce demand for water by 40 per cent per household.
‘I can’t commit to Clarrie Hall Dam; it’s really frustrating that they won’t even talk about water conservation. It’s also an enormous amount of infrastructure and it degrades and depreciates, so it’s an awful waste of money; it’s best to defer that cost if we can.
‘The community has done water savings very well in the past; during the 2002–03 drought we reduced our usage by a massive 40 per cent per capita because people suddenly became water conscious, so we’re already well down that path of conservation and only need a little bit more and we wouldn’t need to incur costs for dams.
‘Council hasn’t actively factored in water savings. If council reduced their leakage of around 14 per cent, that would be a big saving for a start; also existing residents should be encouraged to install large rainwater tanks rather than just new residents being required to.
‘We won’t need any (water-supply) augmentation till at least 2023, so we have lots of time now to debate these issues. The opportunity is slipping away to seriously consider dual reticulation, which would amount to huge savings, but we have to act now.
‘The National Water Commission says we should have a diversity of options including water-saving; every water manager says it.
‘It’s a new era; water-conservation technology wasn’t around when they planned those dams. Water is a hot topic around the world and dual reticulation is the most reliable water because it’s already there, and it’s a waste if we’re flushing it down the toilet in the middle of a drought.
‘This is a new way of thinking and we need to help educate the community about the various water-saving methods; dams are ‘old school’ thinking.
‘The whole of Olympic Park was planned with water-saving measures, so we can do it here as well.’
For further information, including guidelines for making a submission and copies of the terms of reference, visit the NSW Parliament website at www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/statedevelopment or contact the Committee secretariat on 02 9230 3081.