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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Opponents of proposed Dunoon Dam speak

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Proposed Dunoon Dam site. Google Earth overlay.

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. Photo supplied.

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?’

Road to nowhere? This area near Dunoon will be underwater if the proposed dam is built. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Rocky Creek dam. Photo supplied.

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?’

Hugh Nicholson with fellow legendary activists and tree protectors Nan Nicholson and Terri Nicholson. Photo Tree Faerie.

Irreplaceable heritage?

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.

Cr. Vanessa Ekins supported the 160 litre challenge to encourage water efficiency. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘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.’

Environmental flow?

‘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.

Rocky Creek Dam treatment plant. Photo supplied.

‘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.’

This section of the Rocky Creek Valley would be underwater if the Dunoon Dam is built. Photo David Lowe.

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.

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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. My question is just where is the water to fill the new dam.
    The Rocky Creek Dam works well but this new dam, the Dunoon Dam will have three times the capacity of the Rocky Creek Dam. That means, to fill the Dam the catcment area also has to be three times the size the catchment area of the Rocky Creek Dam. How can that be when the new Dam is downstream of Rocky Creek Dam and that present Dam impedes water from flowing into the new Dunoon Dam. There needs to be an investigation if and when the new dam is built, that the wall of the Rocky Creek Dam may be dismantled so the catchment area of the Rocky Creek Dam becomes part of the new Dunoon dam and there is only one Dam as the Rocky Creek Dam will become redundant. It does not make economic sense to have two dams on the one creek so close to each other as the catchment of one crowds out the catchment of the other. It would be more economic to have one huge catchment area combined and then the Rocky Creek Dam is morphed into the new Dunoon Dam.

  2. More and more … we need more of everything because there’s more and more people. Always bandaids rather than avoiding injury. Population growth is out of control but nobody wants to admit it. Too many people.

  3. People keep saying “stem population growth”. Easy to say but what do you propose? Forced abortions, sterilization, one child policy? Stop refugees? Stop immigration?
    The simple fact is the population is going to keep growing. And we NEED to start working on this dam NOW so it has time to fill and be ready for the future.
    It is gross negligence NOT to build it. It has nothing to do with anyone making money. Opponents always throw that into debate but even without the dam real-estate will still grow as people need places to live.
    Tanks are ok to a point but with the tiny blocks of land in town to get enough water storage to fulfill our needs we would have no land left for growing our veggies and fruit. And my hubby and I are very water wise. We already have a tank and our water bill last time was only $116.
    There are some measures that can be introduced to conserve more water in our council, that’s for sure. But they will never be enough to stop the need for the dam.
    I personally would like to see all backyard swimming pools gone and spa baths…. But …. I think I dream.

  4. I strongly recommend people read the entertaining book “Gridlock” by Ben Elton, in which he highlights the dark humour in the human folly of building bigger and better roads, only to find them filling up and grid-locking again.
    The same dynamic is at play here with our water supply – increase the water supply dramatically ( as this dam will do ) and then watch the demand expand to match it! That might suit Sydney’s Regional Development plan for us, but local residents should be fully aware of the ramifications before accepting it.
    There are limits to growth. Hard limits. The answer to water supply security ultimately lies in decentralised, flexible ,resilient systems coupled with far stronger demand-management strategies.

  5. Crock of cockypop the whole debate against the Dam. Wouldnt matter where you put it ppl will complain. Never seen an aboriginal there no sacred site these are everywhere anyway. We need it to keep up supply to growing demand. It will help ensure your children can live here comfortably. Wake up Dam you.


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