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March 3, 2024

Submissions on Future Water closed, dam controversy rages on

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Channon Gorge, site of proposed Dunoon Dam. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Annie Kia (R) with Nan Nicholson. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Daniel Peterson, Lismore Environment Centre. Photo supplied.

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?’

What next?

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.

Keith Williams in his previous role at Seabird Rescue, with a rescued pelican. Photo supplied.

‘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

Mayor Simon Richardson. Photo David Hancock

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.

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  1. Councillors on Rous should be directly elected by the voters and not voted from the local Councils. Currently there are two Councillors from Casino on Rous but Rous doesn’t supply Casino. Similarly there are two Councillors from Federal but Rous doesn’t supply Federal (but did once plan to build a dam there).

    The Councillor from Federal said “Water is too cheap” and that may be his opinion but who speaks for the Rous ratepayers who don’t want to be slugged with higher and higher charges for an inferior product? The Councillors from Federal and Casino? Maybe/maybe not?

    In 1999/2000 Rous cut the bulk supply charge by 20%, and the local Councils then took that 20% price cut and increased the water price they charged to the customer. Clearly reducing water costs to the customer is not on any one’s agenda and direct election of Rous Councillors may change that.

    A mutual organisation may also be preferred where each water customer who is supplied by Rous (i.e. people in Ballina, Byron, Lismore etc) is issued shares in Rous and the shareholders directly elect the Councillors/directors.

  2. Rous and our local councils must show leadership on this, and not merely wait for the tide to turn. Mayor Richardson’s (vague) points are taken and I know the general gist of it is that it’s all too hard. But that is buck-passing to future generations again. And Cr. Williams setting it up as a choice between rainforest or wetlands is not a fair statement either. I understand he might be feeling stressed out and grumpy but I don’t think it’s fair or real to set it up as an either/or scenario like that.
    If we can’t be leaders in water efficiency here, in one of the most progressive communities in Australia, what is the hope for the rest of the country, let alone the world?

  3. So the White Report’s path to meet “supply/demand balance” for the Northern Rivers includes:

    The installation of low volume dual-flush dunnies (you know, the ones you have to flush several times if there is anything more than yellow in the bowl)?

    Replace top loading washing machines with front loaders (irrespective of whether a top loader is preferred for various valid reasons by many residents)?

    Impose (?) installation of shower heads with 4-star “water efficient” models (i.e., the ones where you have to run around inside the shower recess three times to get wet)?

    Can’t see much detail on the question of water security providing for those (repeatedly frequent, nowadays) years of just not enough rainfall flowing into smaller dams to see things out until the next decent lot of rains.

  4. Damn you Rous councillors (Cr Vanessa Ekins excepted)

    The public defence by Crs Keith Wiliams, Simon Richardson and Sharon Cadwallader of the dam option is just pathetic, repeating the bureaucrats’ last-century spin.

    Methinks they protesteth too much. It’s way too hard for them to get their precious heads around exactly what’s needed, Yet I bet none of them have seen for themselves the natural treasure that is The Channon Gorge or the area to be flooded,

    Cr Williams claims he’s an environmentalist and lists his so-called achievements to support his quixotic stance, but it seems the power of being chair of the water-supplying quango has gone to his head.

    These pro-dam councillors are simply not up to the job of securing water for the future without building a costly new dam in the middle of one of the most beautiful parts of this region.

    So get down off your donkeys, stop attacking these imaginary windmills and support the community in this. Read the submissions for a start.

    It’s not too hard to opt for a solution that does not destroy the environment: education of urban water users is a key factor in saving lots of wasted drinking water.

    Tens of thousands of people, locals and visitors alike, visit The Channon markets each month and are probably unaware the proposed 40-metre dam wall, and all the ugly concrete infrastructure for it, will be visible as you approach the quaint village. Talk about spoiling a beautiful rainforest and agricultural area forever.

    Then of course, there’s the Aboriginal cultural heritage, which the area is rich with.

    Four of the eight councillors on Rous Water vote for the dam yet do not have any direct interest as their areas of representation have nothing to do with the water supply in question. How is that fair?

    Those councillors obstinately supporting a dam will be damned themselves by future generations. They are living in the past, refusing to see there are much better (efficient and economic) ways to secure water supply into the future.

  5. I wonder if the NSW Productivity Commission’s greenpaper has slipped under most people’s radar. It makes strong draft recommendations on water efficiency and reuse – but I didn’t know about it until yesterday. You would think all Rous staff and councillors should be aware of it , have a position on it, and have a duty to tell residents about it.

    In any case Sections 5.4 to 5.7 are highly relevant to ‘water security’ , and well worth a read in the context of this debate. It could be, by the end of the day we have less controversy and more furious agreement!!

    The greenpaper can be found at productivity.nsw.gov.au , and is probably worth an Echo story in itself ( or maybe several! )

  6. Not sure why Cr Williams is making a coastal wetlands vs rainforest argument. He spouts his environmental achievements yet is promoting an ecocidal and cultural genocidal project. If Rous is not a business then why do they sell water in exchange for $ to LG’s? Basically my interpretation is- seeking decentralised options is too mu ch effort even though it is more effective and efficient? Rous you are supposed to represent the community well we are pushing you to do the job properly even if it’s harder. Step down if you can’t handle the heat Keith.

  7. Wow wetlands versus rainforest… that’s a horrible argument and is that really what it comes down to? Are we going to inspire intelligent sustainable water practices or set up coastal versus inland resident factions and fight it out? “Personally” this article and Keith’s comment leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.. and more fear in my heart ..
    and as for water being cheap- it’s not for everyone… yes for mining companies and water bottle perveyors but some in this shire invest quite a bit of their low incomes in managing their water use …

  8. Great to hear that Simon Richardson says, for him, ‘the dam is an absolute last resort’.
    Also he provides two clear solutions to the water conundrum:
    1. ‘Currently, water is way too cheap and we don’t apply true cost economics around the financial modelling.
    2. ‘Also, the restrictions and obstacles around water tanks and recycled water are far too onerous,’ he said.
    Thanks Cr Richardson.


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