Since Rous County Council put its Future Water Project 2060 on public display two weeks ago, the revival of the concept of a second dam on Rocky Creek, near Dunoon, has sparked debate across the Northern Rivers.
The recently formed Dunoon Dam Proposal Action Group already has almost 300 members on Facebook.
Léandra Martiniello is an Arrernte woman and Dunoon local who is participating in organising with the group in the community against the dam.
She contacted Echonetdaily to address some of the points made by Rous County Council Chair Keith Williams in his recent interview.
Regarding the Whian Whian Swimming Hole, Ms Martiniello said, ‘The environmental flows assessment carried out clearly states that at capacity or spill over volumes, the dam will flood all the way up to the falls.
‘As the Rous County Council Chairperson, [Mr Williams] presenting contrary information to the official report has caused some confusion in the community.’
She went on to say that ‘if Rous is serious about reconciliation, they would not be continuing the destruction of living Widjabal culture, implicating themselves in the war on sacred sites that is rampant across the continent.’
Ms Martiniellio is also concerned about the environmental heritage risks. She said, ‘There are numerous threatened plant species in the flood area which will not survive, these species should be protected under the EPBC Act (1999).’
On the issue of water re-use, Ms Martiniello suggested, ‘We could be the first. If we are serious about planning for a dryer climate in the future, eventually we will have to look at implementing this infrastructure, in the long term. Is it not more efficient to front it now and do the job properly from the beginning?’
Former Rous Chair says demand management is the answer
Retired councillor Richard Staples responded to Mr Williams’ comments about the new dam by saying, ‘When I was in the Chair at Rous I pushed hard for more emphasis on demand management rather than ham-fisted supply-side solutions.
‘They increased the DM budget, but in the usual passive-aggressive way, knowing that sooner or later the pesky elected members who advocated a different path would be outnumbered.’
Mr Staples said that Keith Williams’ comments on rainwater tanks don’t make sense.
‘People who use rainwater tanks in urban areas reduce demand from the reticulated supply on an on-going basis.
‘A reticulated supply (say from Rocky Creek Dam) could, indefinitely into the future, be used more as a drought reserve than a mainstream supply, if most people collected their own water.
‘But there would be no big contracts – how boring!
‘The proposed Dunoon/Channon Dam would store some 3 times as much water as Rocky Creek Dam,’ Mr Staples said. ‘This will allow – in fact require – massive urban development in the County District, to pay it off.’
From Bentley to Dunoon
Local of 25 years Carol Shipard founded the Dunoon Dam Proposal Action Group after being involved in successful protests to ward off unconventional gas at Bentley.
She’s concerned about the impacts on the area below Whian Whian Falls and on indigenous cultural sites, including a burial ground, and many endangered species of flora and fauna.
She says it’s not just a local issue, noting that the existing Rocky Creek Dam serves as the principal water supply for the greater Northern Rivers area stretching from Woodburn in the south, north to Ocean Shores and west to Lismore.
‘I love the dam,’ she said, ‘and all the facilities and walks. It’s stunning, and I’ve spent many happy hours out there. But one is enough. We shouldn’t be greedy – we should share the love with another small town, and let them have the dam. Somewhere that isn’t going to have such an impact.’
Ms Shipard said that group members are concerned about the environmental and cultural damage, as well as infrastructure impacts. ‘The last one took 4 years to build. Imagine the potholes with all that equipment travelling on it?’
Another member of the group, the rainforest expert, photographer and activist Hugh Nicholson, said he’s visited areas of Rocky Creek intended to be drowned by the proposed dam which cannot be offset, as they are unique forest types.
‘The gorge is so steep that it has probably never been cleared. The forest would have been connected to the Big Scrub but it is a distinctly different forest,’ said Mr Nicholson.
‘It is subtropical rainforest growing on sandstone – which is very unusual. I am not sure if there are any examples of this forest type in the reserve system.’
Rous County Councillor Vanessa Ekins told Echonetdaily, ‘The decision making process is problematic with Rous deciding in October whether to proceed with the dam, and then the technical, heritage, environmental studies occur.
‘My concern is that we proceed on the assumption the state government will cover the $200M plus cost, and then they don’t and we are left borrowing the funds and quadrupling the cost of water for everyone.’
Limits to growth?
Dr Richard Gates sees endless growth as the elephant in the room.
Responding to Mr Williams’ comments, he said, ‘What’s missing in the discussion about the proposed dam is the issue of limits to growth.
‘The project seems to be predicated on further growth of the Northern Rivers area with more and more people to be accommodated, a strategy being pushed by the NSW State government, and its local government servants, all based on ill-informed regional planning strategies.
‘These “planning porn” strategies from successive governments are nothing more than real estate development advertisements dressed up in weasel words without the necessary accompanying evidence to support the rhetoric,’ Dr Gates said.
‘You have to ask the question cui bono, who stands to benefit, and what attention is being given to inter-generational equity and the crap legacy we will leave behind through over development and destruction of the very things many of us value?’
Dr Gates concluded by saying ‘Evidence made available to the public and local government many years ago showed that we were already past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land yet despite the evidence governments have persisted with the “growth-will-benefit-us-all” myth. This is part of the discredited “trickle down” economics nonsense long past its use-by date.’
‘Retired media slut’ Dr Paul Recher is another critic of the proposed dam. He told Echonetdaily that ‘Keith is misplaced when discussing environmental flow. Dunoon Dam with enviro flow legislation – though twice the size of Rocky Creek Dam – will have only half the yield.
‘The reason there is no enviro flow out of Rocky is that the legislation was not retrospective. This is one reason they can’t raise the current dam wall as an option, as it triggers enviro flow legislation and the height required to compensate (to meet cost/benefit analysis) comes up against another hurdle.
‘That height of 8m floods the wharf and pumping station, burdening the cost.
‘Anyway Rous could still instigate enviro flow from Rocky,’ Dr Recher said. ‘This is one good aspect of a Dunoon Dam in that Rous then has no excuse to not do timed releases to fix the health of Rocky Ck below the spillway, which in the 1998 report to council stated sections of the creek ranged from poor to fair and without remedial action would continue to degenerate.
‘This report was an outcome of my suggestion to continuous siphon 10mm pipe out of dam. This led to the report and the actual science calling for a program of timed releases to be studied and identified. This never took place.’
Dr Recher would also like the underlying growth issue (which is driving the need for a second dam) to be addressed.
He said, ‘Rous is prohibited from considering the “do nothing” option as growth is an assumption and therefore Rous must plan to fulfill its charter for providing secure clean supply of bulk water.’
He closed his comments by addressing the recycled water option. ‘As for potable, Rous is just accepting the squeamish non-scientific nonsense,’ said Dr Recher. ‘Science says recycled sewerage using membrane technology means it is first class drinking water. Get over it people. Recycled sewerage or 250 million dollar dam?’
Public submissions on Rous County Council’s Future Water Project 2060 are welcome. You can get more information and lodge them here. Submissions close 12 August 2020.