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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Will Rous County Council’s big water plan drought-proof the region?

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Rous County Councillors
(L-R) Rous County Councillors Cr Simon Richardson, Cr Vanessa Ekins, Phillip Rudd (General Manager), Cr Sandra Humphrys, Cr Keith Williams (Chair), Michael McKenzie (Future Water Project Manager), Cr Sharon Cadwallader (D/Chair), Cr Darlene Cook, Cr Robert Mustow – supplied.

The release of a proposed $245 million plan to protect the future of the region’s water supply was unanimously endorsed by Rous County Councillors at their meeting last week.

‘Future Water Project 2060’ will be going on public exhibition for six weeks from 1 July 2020.

Chairperson Keith Williams said, ‘Given the recent impact of the worst drought conditions in living memory, this once-in-a-generation proposal could not come at a more critical time for our region’s water resources.’

New dam proposed

The two main elements of the plan are a new, fifty gigalitre Dunoon Dam, to be located downstream of the existing Rocky Creek Dam and budgeted at $220 million, and a $25 million investment to upgrade the existing Marom Creek Water Treatment Plant, near Wollongbar.

Although the idea of the Dunoon Dam has been controversial since it was first suggested in the 1990s, Chairperson Williams said ‘all of Council’s investigations to date show the Dunoon Dam remains the most affordable and sustainable option for securing the community’s water supply to 2060 and beyond.

‘It will also make sure our community is not burdened by excessive water restrictions,’ he said.

Echonetdaily spoke to Rous County Councillor Sharon Cadwallader about the perspective from Ballina. ‘The drought really brought it home to me as to the imperative to secure the region’s future water supply,’ she said.

‘With the current population growth, new water sources are desperately needed. And while the community have embraced initiatives like the 160 litre a day water challenge, installed rain water tanks and taken up recycled water, it just isn’t enough to future-proof the region’s water supply.’

Efficiency not enough with projected population growth

The latest Rous County Council research suggests that in spite of these community incentives for greater water efficiency, projected rising population growth across the Northern Rivers region over the next forty years means that five additional gigalitres will be needed each year – that’s the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools.

General Manager, Phillip Rudd said, ‘The proposed Future Water Project 2060 is the culmination of extensive investigations over a long period to find an all-round viable solution for permanently boosting the region’s water supply’.

Other water sources that have been considered following ‘extensive community input’ include desalination, recycled water and increased groundwater use.

Hard choices ahead

Rous County Councillor Vanessa Ekins told Echonetdaily that the people of the Northern Rivers need to think about future water demand, and whether they are prepared to pay much higher rates to fund the dam if water use and population continue to rise.

‘While dams are beautiful places to visit, and provide jobs during their construction phase,’ she said, ‘the Dunoon Dam will impact significant Aboriginal cultural heritage, destroy high conservation value vegetation, and flood platypus habitat in Rocky Creek.’

Chairperson Keith Williams acknowledged there are ‘many important ecological, cultural heritage, landowner, funding and other issues’ that need to be carefully considered in the development of an additional dam.

Until a new dam is built, upgrades to the Marom Creek treatment dam and improvements to existing groundwater infrastructure at Alstonville are proposed as the most cost-effective way to meet the short to medium demand for water.

Get involved

Councillor Ekins is urging people to examine the documentation on public display, discuss the proposal with friends and family, and invest in rainwater tanks to reduce demand on Rocky Creek Dam water.

‘Remember most household water use is flushing toilets and washing clothes,’ Ms Ekins said. ‘Do we need expensive drinking quality water to do this? Rous County Council offer generous rebates for rainwater tanks and even more when these tanks are plumbed into your laundry and toilet. This is the time to talk about our future water sources.’

Because of COVID-19 precautions, Rous County Council will be conducting the public exhibition period primarily online, but written submissions are welcomed.

More information is available at www.rous.nsw.gov.au, via Rous County Council’s Facebook page, or by calling (02) 6623 3800.

More stories about the Dunoon Dam

Call for deeper look at underground water

Ballina's Cr Eoin Johnston is calling for council to invite senior technical representatives of Rous County Council to provide a briefing to Ballina's councillors on the ramifications of using the Alstonville Aquifer as a major source of water supply to the region for the next forty years.


Rous moves ahead without Dunoon Dam

Yesterday's extraordinary meeting of Rous County Council included two more attempts to get the Dunoon Dam back on the table, both of which were defeated, 5 votes to 3.


Rescission motion fails, but Dunoon Dam not dead

Yesterday's meeting of the Rous County Council saw the rescission motion go down 5:3 after another passionate debate, but Cr Sharon Cadwallader said she remained determined to keep the Dunoon Dam as an option for the future water supply of the Northern Rivers.


WATER Northern Rivers and the BES oppose dam rescission motion

Both WATER Northern Rivers and the Ballina Environment Society have expressed their opposition to the rescission motion proposed for Rous County Council in regards to the Dunoon Dam.


Could new dam become another Rio Tinto disaster?

Widjabul Wia-bal traditional custodians are deeply concerned about a motion proposed for Rous County Council’s next meeting, which would overturn their decision to cease all work on the Dunoon Dam, rezone the land and begin the disposal of Rocky Creek properties.


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  1. One Question

    What is the projected population growth for the
    Rous Water area I.e Ballina, Richmond River, Lismore and Byron,?

  2. Now ,this is a scoop.
    The council of the Rous County Council has endorsed a plan of their own design, that they have been devising for well over thirty years. Most people in this area have been aware of this intention since the Seventies, the land has been purchased and it is of no surprise that the entity responsible for the plan, are unanimously in favour of their plan.
    Ho Hum , enough excitement for one day.
    Cheers, G”)

  3. I wonder if anyone thought to question why it is necessary to continue to grow the population of the Far North Coast particularly when there was evidence in a report presented to all councils nearly 20 years ago that we were past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land. There are limits to growth folks and it’s time to start paying attention to the evidence instead of giving blind obedience to the church of ‘jobs and growth’ being pushed by the State government.

  4. Council may endorse water recycling and reuse, but if cost of water was to rise most people would use less…as regardless of the be water wise movement
    In general many people are still careless in there water use AND waterless composting toilets ARE NOT ENDORSED by councils !
    And installation of recycling grey water systems are beyond financial reach of the general public.
    Put money into supplying and supporting these systems instead of flooding natural significant habitat and destroying Aboriginal Burial sites.

  5. Nobody has even mentioned flood mitigation. Are you all that ignorant that you cant see how this dam, apart from providing water to 100,000 people in the future, it can almost eliminate flooding, or reduce it enormously down in Lismore ???


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