Since Rous County Council Chair Keith Williams’ last minute rebuttal of Annie Kia and Nan Nicholson’s comments about the Dunoon Dam, public submissions about the Rous Future Water Project 2060 have closed.
Echonetdaily has sought details from Rous about how many public submissions were received, and how many were supportive and opposed, but no details have been forthcoming as yet. According to the new WATER Northern Rivers group, a large number of objections have been delivered.
Meanwhile the war of words has continued on social media.
The Channon resident Annie Kia said, ‘I can’t understand why Keith and Rous are choosing to ignore Professor Stuart White’s report. It’s as if they’re on a runaway train called Big Expensive Dam.
‘The White report says there is a cheaper way to achieve supply-demand balance. I strongly encourage everyone to read this Brief Summary of it.
‘And take on board that Professor White is an expert on water efficiency. He and his team have worked with water authorities in California, Egypt, Oman and the Philippines, every mainland Australian state and territory, as well as Sydney Water, where they were able to able to add nearly 1 million people to their population without increased usage. I’m bewildered.
‘Why would Rous not stop the Big Dam train, get off at a siding, and meet Professor White to seriously consider his proposal, especially since it is cheaper, creates jobs in retrofit, and reduces costs for business and industry?’
Rous County Council’s role
Cr Keith Williams responded to Ms Kia by saying Professor White’s proposal is not rejected at all, ‘But there are many things suggested that we cannot do as a Council. We are not a company, we cannot spend public money doing works on private property.
‘We are limited to offering rebates,’ he said.
Lismore’s Daniel Peterson (who’s spoken to Echonetdaily before on the dam issue) said, ‘If not a company why is Rous so committed to economic feasibility parameters?
‘The ab/use of water (that we’ve all paid to deliver) is increasingly serious and thus Rous must start to see its public (non-company) influence beyond the “limits” of rebates.
‘Please do not hide your capacity behind perceived or believed limitations.’
Richard Staples was a Councillor with Rous from 1999 to 2012, including a year spent as Chair.
Joining the online debate, he said, ‘Cr Williams is for whatever reason reciting the same tired old lines I heard from those in the Water Industry throughout my thirteen years service on Rous.
‘Demand management is treated in a passive-aggressive way by elements who, deep down, believe more consumption and endless population growth is actually a good thing,’ said Mr Staples.
‘Furthermore, although rainwater tanks are promoted in a half-hearted way, pricing policies favoured by engineers and bureaucrats militate against encouraging their wider use in urban areas.
‘Thousands of small contracts for decentralised supply are boring. On the other hand, a half-billion dollar project presents exciting opportunities and a series of very big juicy contracts. Who will pay?’
Echonetdaily asked Mr Staples what he thought would happen next.
‘The Rous councillors will be fed the story about “water security”, “drought-proofing”, blah blah… and be assured that all has been done that can be done in demand management and alternate supply. None of the current crop of councillors (except Vanessa Ekins) were around when the Lismore Source was developed.
‘Although it was a shoddy bit of work that ran something like 100% over budget, it has the potential to provide back-up during an extreme drought. But this is not about providing a reliable supply to the County district. It’s about big contracts.
‘To answer your question: the Water Industry will try to get a nod from the Rous councillors prior to the LG elections next year. If they do they will tell the new lot it’s all a done deal and too late to back-track. If they don’t, they will re-group and wait for a more favourable political climate.’
Cr Williams responds
In response to Mr Staples’ comments, Cr Williams said, ‘What a pile of bullshit… Someone who has never met me and clearly knows nothing about me – describing my personal views and motivations – and getting it oh so wrong. On a personal basis, I call bullshit.
‘I did Environmental Science in the ’80s and have mostly worked in the non-profit sector since.
‘I have rescued more wildlife, stayed awake more nights caring for them, spoken to and been abused by more people than you can imagine trying to save them. (Remember shark nets in Ballina?)
‘I’ve planted 10,000s of trees across the Northern Rivers coastal health, littoral rainforest and koala habitat projects.
‘I have spent the past decade trying to save the Richmond River, initiating the Ballina rate rise to fund healthy waterways program, attracting $4 million in State funding in last two years.
‘As Chair of Rous I wrote and got endorsement from all NR Councils for the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative – a $150m plan to undertake natural flood mitigation at a landscape scale, to store more water in soils, improve river health and adapt to a much hotter and drier climate.
‘I didn’t create the zombie project. I wasn’t a Councillor when Rous decided to pursue other options, but retain ownership of the dam site land and continued to acquire blocks as they became available.
‘I am the most environmentally-minded person to ever be elected Chair of Rous and I work collaboratively with all Councillors,’ said Cr Williams.
‘Personally I will not trade off killing coastal wetlands to save rainforest. That would be the easy option. I will find another way.’
Annie Kia has since welcomed Rous County Council’s decision to hear a presentation from Professor White about system-wide water efficiency this week.
Byron Mayor Simon Richardson’s view
Meanwhile one of Byron Shire’s two representatives on Rous County Council, Cr Simon Richardson, told Echonetdaily, ‘For me, the dam is an absolute last resort.
‘I am committed to trying to explore all other measures first and at least put clear and thorough comparisons of options in front of our community for consideration,’ he said.
‘However, I fear that unless State, Federal and community thoughts around water change we will have little choice but to go down the dam path.
‘Currently, water is way too cheap and we don’t apply true cost economics around the financial modelling.
‘Also, the restrictions and obstacles around water tanks and recycled water are far too onerous,’ he said.
‘These all are nuanced and complex issues that require far more explanation than I just provided, and I hope that these issues can brought to the public’s attention in order for us all to be able to advocate for reasonable outcomes more powerfully,’ said Cr Richardson.
A decision on the Rous Future Water Project 2060 is expected in December.
More stories about the Dunoon Dam
It is predicted that the next 40 years will see the demand for water increase by 50 per cent in the local government areas that Rous County Council supply with water.
Most people don’t know that the proposal for Dunoon Dam has never been part of Rous County Council’s 40-year, adopted, strategic plan to increase water supply, resilience and security, known as Future Water Plan 2060.
We have not heard much about the Dunoon Dam lately and many people are asking ‘What is happening with that dam?’
What is the best way to secure a long-term, reliable water supply for Mullumbimby?
Floods, COVID and a regional housing crisis added up to a very eventful first year in the big chair for Mayor Sharon Cadwallader at Ballina Shire Council, following the departure of David Wright. This is part one of a two part interview with Cr Cadwallader, focusing on 2022. Part two will focus on 2023, and beyond.