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