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April 21, 2021

Water Northern Rivers Alliance launched at Lennox

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Campaign banner at launch of Water Northern Rivers Alliance, Lennox Head. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Annie Kia at the launch in Lennox Head. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson speaks at the launch. Photo David Lowe.

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.

Nan Nicholson speaks at the launch yesterday. Photo David Lowe.

‘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.’

Human drop from the air. Photo Dean Draper.

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.

There is a photo gallery of the areas to be affected by the flooding here.

You can see a short film of the Channon Gorge (to go underwater if the Dunoon Dam proceeds) via YouTube below.


Photos David Lowe

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  1. Is this campaign misguided?
    The population of the Northern Rivers is growing and therefore more water is needed and more the destruction of the environment will take place. Increasing population is the ethos of Local Government, State government and Federal Government
    That is what you are fighting.
    If you choose a smart water option, it will soon become a poor water option as the population increases and more people use that water and water becomes a scarce commodity again, in a very short time.
    The real solution is to stop growth.

    • This campaign is so timely and well-informed. As the population grows and the climate changes and there are more drought periods, we actually need water options that are independent of rainfall. Moving towards a diversifed portfolio of options is exactly what is needed.

  2. “The real solution is to stop growth.”
    I don’t think it can be better put, but you and I know our overlords (the exceedingly rich and the insatiably greedy) have learnt that the bigger the flock the more you can fleece them, so prepare for exponential growth. The way I see it, the prospect of another dam at Dunoon is the least of our worries.
    I heard about a fella who built this enormous boat, but that was quite a while ago, although I do hear we are in for a lot of rain.
    Cheers , G”)

  3. Hi Emily
    I don’t disagree with your general comments about growth. However a quick look at the figures are very revealing. NSW Planning predicts growth or decline over the next 20 years for the 4 constituent Rous Councils as Ballina 0.4%, Byron 0.5%, Lismore -0.1% and Richmond Valley 0.1%. The vast majority of this growth is by migration. Over the next 40 years Rous is looking at an increase of approximately 14,000 connections None of these figures are such that they couldn’t be handled with an emphasis on water efficiency and a number of alternative options to the dam. For instance water loss in the entire water system is estimated at 14%. This could make a major contribution to a number of resilient non dam alternatives.

  4. Putting all of our eggs in one basket is simply too risky, living in a country with drought climate and extended dry periods predicted by climate change. What if the basket fails? What will we have to secure us then? The Proposed Dunoon Dam would fill up from overflow from Rocky Creek Dam- so if Rocky Creek Dam is empty then it is likely that the proposed Dunoon Dam would be empty too (if it were to go ahead). We need to be incredibly wise with our water management at this point- placing our eggs in multiple baskets (we already have eggs in the dam basket), so when one basket fails we have the others in place already, extending our water security into drought periods.

    This is without mentioning the role that forests play in the hydrological cycle, destroying more forests only further disrupts that cycle.


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