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.
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.
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