On the first day of National Water Week, supporters of the Water Northern Rivers Alliance gathered yesterday at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre to launch their inaugural campaign: ‘Smart Water Options – No Dunoon Dam’.
Speaker Annie Kia said, ‘How good is it to be amongst caring and creative people who care about our communities, who care about our heritage, and who engage deeply with the kind of water systems that we can have at this moment in history?’
She said the campaign to stop ‘a destructive dam’ had come together in weeks, following Rous County Council’s announcement of the Future Water Project 2060, which suggested the Dunoon Dam as the centrepiece for addressing the future water needs of the Northern Rivers.
Not just a NO campaign
Ms Kia emphasised that the new organisation had higher ambitions than just stopping another dam.
She described Water Northern Rivers as ‘an alliance of citizens and groups who want smart water options in the region, and a water system that’s fit for the 21st century’, saying this meant looking at a range of strategies, including system-wide water efficiency, desalination, recycled water and other sources which together offered better resilience in a changing climate than new dams.
Ms Kia mentioned recent papers supporting this diversified approach to water from experts in the field including the Water Services Association of Australia and Professor Stuart White, at UTS.
She said that it comes to water, we need ‘all options on the table’.
Ms Kia also said it was unacceptable to destroy the Aboriginal heritage in the path of the dam (ancient graves and numerous other documented sacred sites are threatened), as well as that portion of the 1% remaining of the Big Scrub which occurs in the area to be inundated, which she described as a ‘biodiversity wonderland’.
She suggested that in an age of extinctions, ‘we can’t have that destruction on our record,’ and called for Rous County Council to change direction and ‘reorient our water system for the coming century, because the Dunoon Dam belongs in the last century.’
Cr Jeff Johnson’s view
Ballina Councillor Jeff Johnson also spoke against the dam, saying he is unconvinced by Rous County Council’s assertion that the Dunoon Dam is the best and most affordable option for the future.
He said that the dam would cost over $650 million over its life span in today’s dollars, with that cost ultimately to be paid by the community.
He said that less than 2% of the potable water in the region was actually used for drinking currently, and ‘the concept of building a massive new dam just to flush water down the toilet, and into the creeks, rivers and ocean, clearly isn’t the best way forward.’
Cr Johnson said that there was a massive projected uptake of purple pipe (recycled water) technology in Ballina, particularly, and there was also room for extra efficiencies, with 15-20% of the Rous supply currently being wasted with leaking pipes.
‘Fixing those pipes alone would probably fix projected demand for the next fifty years,’ he said.
He also called for increased rebates and accessibility of rain water tanks across the Northern Rivers.
‘Line in the sand’ for Nan Nicholson
The next speaker, rainforest ecologist Nan Nicholson, spoke about the destruction of rare biodiversity if the dam proceeds, with the flora of the Channon Gorge being an irreplaceable and undisturbed remnant of Australia’s ancient past.
‘This is a line in the sand,’ she said. ‘We cannot take another single tree from what’s left of the Big Scrub’.
She talked about the particularly rarity of the botanical communities threatened by the Dunoon Dam, as they are growing on sandstone rock, which is much older than the more common volcanic rock in the region, and has made it possible for exceptionally rare warm temperate rainforest to flourish there.
(Ms Nicholson has spoken about the giant water gums and other rare flora of the gorge in this earlier interview with Echonetdaily, along with the threat to tallowwoods and koalas, hammered in last summer’s bushfires and now threatened with extinction).
In relation to indigenous heritage, Nan Nicholson talked about her conversations with Widjabul-Wyabul elders who have told her, ‘This is enough, this has to stop.’
She talked about a recent photo of the gorge taken by Balloons Aloft from Byron, and Uncle Roy Gordon’s reaction.
Uncle Roy Gordon speaks
Nan Nicholson read out the following text from Uncle Roy. ‘We need to keep and protect these places for future generations. These places are our living heritage. These places are a connection to our ancestry and our ancestral understanding of our relationship with the very environment that holds our people together. These places are learning grounds for future generations.
‘To destroy a living environment that sustains our lives is to destroy the lives of people, and children and community. We will never accept this.’
Ms Nicholson concluded by saying, ‘I think that’s what we have to carry forward with us, these words of Uncle Roy, because we cannot accept this either.’
After the speeches, musicians Terri Nicholson, Mish Songsmith and Jessie Vintila performed, then those assembled gathered for photographs with the Water Northern Rivers Alliance banner outside, forming a human drop of water on the grass.
You can see a short film of the Channon Gorge (to go underwater if the Dunoon Dam proceeds) via YouTube below.
Photos David Lowe
More stories about the Dunoon Dam
Ballina's Cr Eoin Johnston is calling for council to invite senior technical representatives of Rous County Council to provide a briefing to Ballina's councillors on the ramifications of using the Alstonville Aquifer as a major source of water supply to the region for the next forty years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In our final story about some of the contenders to be Lismore's next mayor, the shire's longest-serving councillor, Vanessa Ekins, talks about her connections with the area, and hopes for Lismore's future.
On the same day that it voted to write to the Prime Minister to change the date of Australia Day, Ballina Council has decided to reopen the Dunoon Dam debate, even though the project was stopped primarily on indigenous heritage grounds.