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April 15, 2021

Ballina’s Cr Cadwallader on the case for the dam

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Rous County Council Deputy Chair and Ballina Shire Cr Sharon Cadwallader. Photo supplied.

Following last week’s story about Ballina Councillor Jeff Johnson and former mayor Keith Johnson on the proposed dam between Dunoon and the Channon, the Deputy Chair of Rous County Council and Ballina Councillor Sharon Cadwallader has responded to some of the points raised.

Rous County Council is responsible for delivering water to the shires of Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Richmond Valley.


Cr Cadwallader said both short and long term costs need to be considered when examining the future water supply for the region, with the two most viable options in the view of Rous being dispersed groundwater schemes and a second dam.

‘The preference for the Dunoon Dam project is that it provides the water security for more than 40 years, and it’s significantly cheaper over 80 years to build and operate than dispersed groundwater schemes,’ she told Echonetdaily.

‘It is estimated that dispersed groundwater schemes will cost $836 million over that time. In addition the region will also need to seek additional sources of water, whereas the dam will continue to provide water security well into the future.’

Recycled water

Cr Cadwallader is proud that Ballina Shire has taken the lead in the Northern Rivers on water re-use, but said increasing this water supply option is not without significant expense.

‘Non potable re-use or dual reticulation is a decision for the local councils who manage their sewage treatment facilities and local water supplies,’ she said.

‘I do encourage other councils in our region to look into dual reticulation for their new development areas, but ultimately this is the decision for their councils and affordability is a key consideration.’

She said dual reticulation (purple pipes) is ‘not an inexpensive option’, but with the support of the Ballina community, Ballina Shire Council has implemented a dual reticulation programme for new development areas.

Emigrant Creek Dam. Photo Rous County Council.

‘It is important to note that Rous County Council’s demand forecast has accounted for this saving in water,’ Cr Cadwallader said.

‘Expanding this option to other established communities is not without significant challenges and costs.’

She said there are water reuse options available to Rous, such as taking high-level treated water and returning it back to the water sources, like Emigrant Creek Dam, but investigations undertaken by Rous suggest that this option will not provide the water security needed, with other sources of water still being required.

‘This option is expensive to build and operate and is only really considered as a secondary option after more affordable alternatives such as disperse groundwater schemes have been fully implemented,’ said Cr Cadwallader.


In 2014, Rous County Council’s Future Water Strategy determined that yes, there is a significant amount of water available for use within our region’s groundwater systems. Cr Cadwallader said that after five years of intensive investigations, Rous has a better understanding of the resource, which in practical terms is more limited than some people imagine.

‘In many areas of our region, groundwater may be abundant but the water quality makes it unsuitable for town water supply,’ she said. ‘This results in expensive treatment systems to be able to treat and distribute this water.’

The growth question

Rocky Creek Dam, which supplies water to Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Richmond Valley Shires. Photo Rous Water.

Cr Cadwallader said Rous’s demand forecast is based on the residential and commercial growth strategies developed by the region’s local councils, with Rous’s duty to service projected needs.

‘Ballina is one of the fastest growing areas within our region,’ she said. ‘Rocky Creek Dam was build in the 1950s and no one would have foreseen the population growth that has occurred in our region over that time.’

She said Rous needs to plan for the future as water supply infrastructure will be servicing the community for many years to come, with long-term financial impacts a crucial part of the decision-making process.

Time for decision?

Cr Cadwallader said Rous County Council has been investigating how to secure the region’s water supply since the 1990s, when Ballina Shire joined the Rous bulk water supply network.

In 2009, Rous commenced the Future Water Strategy, which recommended three key actions in 2014. Cr Cadwallader said Rous has since spent considerable time investigating these options.

‘Within the next ten years, if action is not taken, our region runs the risk of having the demand for water greater than our reliable long-term supply,’ she said.

‘Whichever option is decided, Rous County Council needs time to implement this source of water, as these are typically complex projects. History shows when local water utilities don’t decide on how they are going to manage their water supply systems, poor decisions often occur,’ said Cr Cadwallader.

‘This results in expensive and poorly considered options which ultimately the community needs to pay for.’

The Rous Future Water Project 2060 is currently on public display.

Public comments are welcome, and can be made until 9 September 2020 here.

Echonetdaily is seeking comment from the other Rous County Councillors who have not yet made their position clear.

You can see some of the country that would go underwater if the dam is built here and here.

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  1. Great to hear the councillors view.
    I’m confused though about the reference to Ballina Shire’s rapid growth in population in the context of planning for 80 years of water use? Have climate change sea level changes been considered in these figures? My understanding is that Ballina will be under water in less than 80 years.
    I also belive that Rous have predicted a growth of only 14000 in the population of the regions supplied by Rous water and am not sure a mega dam in the channon is required.

    • Keelin
      There is no prediction that Ballina will be under water in 80 years. The flood maps were revised a few years back to take into account global warming, and they show in the worst circumstances of tide and rain, much of Ballina Island and est Ballina could have minor flooded. If you take a short walk around the new areas like River Oakes Estate near Aldi, you can see the additional height of the blocks to take into account such a possibility. Much of the growth of greater Ballina is planned in the Cumbalum area and the hills, behind Lennox Head, and neither floods.
      In respect of the comments about water collection and conversation. These measures were tried in Canberra as its population grew around the turn of the millennium. Building tanks on suburban households is far more expensive than dam water. The conservation measures were useful, and changed ow Canberrans gardened, but at the most severe levels needed in 2002, they left Canberra a tinderbox , with the the result of the fires in January 2003 in which four people died, over 490 were injured, and 470 homes were destroyed or severely damage. The ACT Government bit the bullet and increased the capacity of Cotter Dam.
      It is pleasing that some councilors in our area are not waiting for shortages and disasters before we increase our water supply.

  2. So, Cr. Cadwallader, not a mention of the environmental issues. Seriously, this is 2020 and surely we’ve realised it’s not only about the money.

  3. Cr. Sharon Cadwallader’s commitment to building the Channon-Dunoon dam will not contribute to the type of future our community can imagine. If the value of water was properly priced, we would not waste it so much & Cadwallader’s dam would be irrelevant.

  4. Rous spends around 6 to 10 million per year on operating fluoridation plants, depending if they break down,

    Without taking account inflation this comes to minimum over 80 years between 480 to 800 million,

    Since the good Councillor has no environmental or cultural heritage concerns for the Dunoon Dam, maybe she can save hundreds of millions, by Rous not wasting ratepayers money being spent on distributing fluoride, against the wishes of the majority of the community, through the reticulated water supply.

  5. I find it difficult to support all that is practically
    untouched Aboriginal & local residents’ land.
    I’ve seen this happen before where areas
    ‘out-grow’ themselves. It is not a pretty sight.
    Nature’s sell-out is just not on.

  6. Cadwallader days Rous is planning on a new source of water for 40 years. I stand to be corrected but in the same breath she says that Rocky Creek, built in the 50s. has serviced the area for 70 years, despite the massive increase in the population.
    We can only assume that population growth will increase exponentially in the future, so doesn’t a 40 year outlook seem dramatically shortsighted?

  7. Cr Cadwallader is clearly a supply side zealot. Of course she throws in the furphey of ‘purple pipes’ which was a always an engineering approach designed to fail. No mention of demand management, nor the obvious (& much cheaper) alternative of encouraging people to collect their own rainwater. A Dunoon Dam isn’t needed for the existing population in the Rous County district. But it will facilitate massive urban development between Tweed & Wardell. Is that your vision, Councillor?

  8. I see all the nimby tribe are bleeting once again. Whether you like it or not this area is and will continue to grow expedentialy, it has changed greatly in the over 40 odd yrs that I have lived here if you don’t believe this pull your head out of the sand and have a good look around and it’s not going to stop whether you like it or not.The proposal to build this dam has been going on for longer than I care to remember. Water is the most essential thing to life so just get on with building it now instead of sometime down the track when it will cost god knows how many more times then the current estimates/price. Go and ask a farmer how dependable a water tank is and they are frugal with water and still their tanks go dry.

  9. yes indeed…households must harvest water and use it wisely…all that colorbond fencing people seem so fond of could be double walled water storage…under houses water storage could also be cool for our vicious summer weather…leds money, more imagination…and let’s stop wasting precious water in this desert land…


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