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Byron Shire
April 12, 2021

Dunoon dam plan on hold for now

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Rocky Creek Dam, which supplies water to Lismore, Ballina and Byron shires. Photo Rous Water
Rocky Creek Dam, which supplies water to Lismore, Ballina and Byron shires, may not be enough to secure future water needs for the region. Photo Rous Water

Melissa Hargraves

Lismore City councillors have thrown their support behind a draft regional water strategy which favours groundwater sources over the building of a dam at Dunoon to meet future needs.

The Rous Water plan has just come off public exhibition with key actions including water efficiency, groundwater usage and water re-use.

Last Tuesday councillors narrowly voted to support the strategy, but not before the conservative bloc of councillors questioned the low priority given to the controversial proposed Dunoon dam.

Crs Greg Bennett, Matthew Scheibel, Neil Marks, Gianpiero Battista and Graham Meineke had voted against backing the Rous Water strategy with some of them also questioning the reliability of groundwater usage.

But Crs Simon Clough and Vanessa Ekins, who both sit on Rous Water, supported the strategy and its comprehensive public consultation, saying the plan was flexible to meet future needs and challenges as they arise.

The strategy is the culmination of several years of study involving local councils and water industry professionals, supported by a project reference group, largely comprising members of the community.

Rous Water says its existing water sources can comfortably meet expected demand in the short to medium term but a long-term strategy with a 50-year planning horizon was needed, given expected less-reliable rainfall patterns due to climate change as well as population growth.

According to the draft strategy, demand for water around the year 2024 will match what our current sources can reliably supply.

The report says that by 2060, expected water demand would exceed reliable supply by 6,500 megalitres per year, or around half of our current supplies.

Meeting this challenge will require a combination of improved water conservation and new water sources to be developed over the next 10 years.

Cr Clough said Rous Water had spent four years developing the strategy.

‘This is an adaptive strategy that can respond to any changes in the environmental and/or the political landscape,’ he said.

He said Rous Water had no current plans to further progress the Dunoon Dam proposal but it would remain a consideration.

‘The dam can be brought into the strategy if needed but there are two very important and significant uncertainties that need to be considered when proposing the dam,’ Cr Clough said.

‘The first is there is an Aboriginal gravesite in the area that would have to be flooded by the dam and secondly, there is an endangered ecological community that would be impacted by the dam.

‘While this community is not rare, it certainly is very significant. For these reasons and the primary reason of its very significant cost, the Dunoon dam has been scaled back and put in reserve.’

But Cr Marks said the notice of motion was premature.

‘Staff, as I understand, has been writing a proposed submission to the draft so I would like to see what the staff are saying about it (the draft strategy),’ Cr Marks said.

‘Cr Clough is a representative of Rous Water and may be pushing a certain political line, who knows?’ he said.

But Cr Clough asked council staff to confirm their involvement in the development of the draft strategy, which they did.

Cr Battista questioned Crs Clough and Ekins over the merit of the two sources of water supply (dam and groundwater).

‘Is it true that the groundwater supply has not been established yet as a secure water supply?’ he asked.

‘There is already 5,000 megalitres allocated from the coastal sands for future use so we are allocating funds to determine the best access points for extraction with the least impacts,’ Cr Ekins responded.

Cr Bennett questioned why the Dunoon dam option was a lower priority when it had a considerably lower cost than the more preferred option of groundwater extraction.

Cr Clough reassured Cr Bennett that the dam was still a consideration and said Rous Water had factored the costs of Dunoon dam ‘as if it was going ahead to plan, but there are significant questions of uncertainty about the dam which could blow the costs out’.

Cr Bennett pressed Cr Clough to justify the certainty of groundwater supply.

‘It is my understanding that there has only been preliminary studies and it remains unproven,’ Cr Bennett said.

Cr Clough said ‘there is already confirmed groundwater supply at Woodburn and we have been informed by the hydrologist from the Office of Water at our last meeting, that there is an “embarrassing supply of fresh water in the coastal sands aquifers”, so all indications show that there is a significant resource’.

Cr Bennett asked Cr Clough whether Rous Water was aware of the new committee being set up by federal agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce who is pushing for dams to be built.

‘I cannot speak on behalf of Rous Water but yes I am aware that yet again there is a proposal to dam the Clarence River and send the water west… which I can remember from every conservative government in Australia that I have seen, so I don’t think it will happen,’ he said.

To read the draft Future Water Strategy go to http://www.rouswater.nsw.gov.au/cp_themes/default/home.asp






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  1. It is time to bite the bullet on water reuse, one of the strategies set out in the Rous review.

    Richmond Valley Council told the community some time ago that when it put in the new pipeline from Woodburn to Evans Head to take effluent for treatment that it would put in a return pipeline to take treated water back to Woodburn for reuse on playing fields, etc. On the strength of that commitment the golf club spent hundreds of thousands on infrastructure for the reuse water and there were plans for irrigation of playing fields at Evans Head and, stupidly, for the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome which doesn’t need irrigation.
    In the case of the Aerodrome it was shown independently after pressure from the community that the proposal would have destroyed the drainage system, contaminated nearby waterways, and impacted on aviation use of the aerodrome, and so the incredibly dumb plan was abandoned.

    Council also planned to dump the partially treated effluent in the Evans River but that was also opposed because the community was able to show through its ‘orange’ experiments that the discharge would wash back on to the main surfing beach. Talk about shiting in your own nest!!!

    Council failed to put in the return pipeline to Woodburn which should have been done when the trench was open and so it has an excess supply of partially treated water, which a council engineer assured us was fit to drink, that it now discharges into a waterway that flows into Salty Lakes in Broadwater National Park. It continues to add nutrients that could be removed with appropriate technology or a constructed wetland.

    Rous and Richmond Valley Council need to revisit this wasteful use of a valuable resource so that potable water is returned to the Rous water equation. No point engaging the EPA as it is part of the problem. It is there to issue pollution licences and has a long history of failure to do its job, that is protect the environment.

    Yes, there is lots of water available to meet future demand and a dam is not needed. We just need to make sure we have competent people making good decisions in our interest.

    The money wasted by Richmond Valley Council and other agencies on dumb and often politically-motivated schemes sometimes reflecting sheer bloody-mindedness could have been used to much better effect to assure a future supply of potable water. Rous seems to be on the right track but it has not dealt with the much bigger and more potent issue of limits to growth and the carrying capacity of the North Coast which was exceeded many years ago. Whatever happened to the “Region of Villages” study embraced by Richmond Valley Council initially but then dropped like a hot potato when Council found we had passed the limit to growth!
    Dr Richard Gates
    Former member
    The Evans Head & District Water Committee Inc.

    If you want to see if Richmond Valley Council has learned from its mistakes try tomorrow’s business papers and plans to irrigate playing fields with drinking water!

  2. We have access to town water lines, but 10 years ago I installed two 25,000 litre tanks and have only had to top up with town water two or three times in all those years ( for two adults).The tanks fill quickly from the house roof catchment and take up only a small footprint of my house block. We have extensivie fruit and veige gardens and rarely stint on watering. We filter the water for drinking and have a state of the art composting toilet (better than flush- solar exhaust fan means no smell at all!) to save on pouring clean water down the septic. All up we have saved on our water bills and helped the planet.’


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