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Byron Shire
May 15, 2021

All water options on the table for Ballina?

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Ballina Shire Council hears deposition from Bianca Urbina. Skype screenshot.

The Dunoon Dam wasn’t officially on the agenda at the last Ballina Council meeting, but that didn’t stop a heated discussion breaking out on the subject in a motion about water efficiency.

In a personal deposition, Bianca Urbina from WATER Northern Rivers Alliance said she supported extra water efficiency as an essential part of a resilient system, that does not depend on rainfall, unlike the proposed Dunoon Dam. She said the dam idea was shelved in 2012 because of the threat to endangered species, rainforest and cultural heritage, and nothing had changed since.

‘Please take an active role in taking the decisions,’ she said. ‘Stand next to 92% of the community across the region who refused the dam.’

Ms Urbina urged councillors to look at the All Options on the Table report from Water Services Australia, and said it was difficult to make her case with no one in the room making eye contact.

Bianca Urbina from Water Northern Rivers Alliance. Photo David Lowe.

‘I encourage you all to take an active role, pause and rethink water supply in our region,’ she concluded.

What to do about lost water?

When the related motion came up for discussion, all the councillors agreed that too much water was being lost, with a need for more smart meters and less leaks.

Cr Cadwallader said that in spite of investment in extra efficiency measures, accumulated non-revenue losses across the water network was still well in access of an ‘acceptable’ 7%.

She said there was a need to identify and replace aging meters that were giving out wrong readings. ‘We need to clearly identify the problem areas and act,’ she said.

Cr Cadwallader displayed a graph which showed water losses in the Ballina region of 18.5%, equating to $1.2 million in Rous water charges.

She said a strategic plan was needed, especially because most of Ballina was built on sand, making leaks hard to detect. She said contractors might be employed on a ‘no win, no pay’ basis, with financial rewards only if leaks are found.

Council staff agreed that more could be done, not just in leak detection but with pressure zone reduction.

John Truman said, ‘It’s a conversation with community re loss of pressure versus performance.’

Cr Jeff Johnson said he supported the proposal of a plan to improve the performance of the water supply network before returning to the Dunoon Dam proposal, which he described as an expensive waste of money, designed to cater for an unsustainable increase in population.

‘The cost per kilolitres for the proposed dam doesn’t make sense,’ he said.

‘Last drought we didn’t go below 60% [in Rocky Creek Dam] while others areas were running out of water. So any other options need to be explored. We can plug leaks and increase rainwater harvesting.

Cr Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.

‘Ballina doesn’t have to come up with all the solutions, but we can cater for the problem with a range of solutions, not by destroying a precious remnant of the Big Scrub,’ he said.


Cr Nathan Willis said he was happy to support the efficiency motion, but had ‘real concerns’ about the structures in place around Rous County Council.

He said that in regard to the Dunoon Dam, it was clear that Rous had become highly politicised, ‘but at this table our concern needs to be water security for Ballina. Emigrant Creek is at 100% capacity. We have the Pacific Ocean just there. The technology exists for desalination plants powered by solar.’

Cr Willis said he would like to see a move away from the water structure set in the 1960s with Rous and look at what is in the best interests of Ballina.

‘I’m disappointed that Rous hasn’t really brought us the solution that would bring water security for Ballina, which is my primary concern,’ he said.

Cr Keith Williams, who is also the Chair of Rous Water, said every councillor would have received the All Options On The Table report via Water Northern Rivers.

‘Everyone should read this,’ he said. ‘It talks about all the options, and we need to do this as well. I have long supported chasing down leaks and looking at smart meters – we need to do everything.

‘The serious risk we face is a changing climate which is going to result in extended and unprecedented periods of drought,’ he said.

‘We do need all options on the table, more efficiency, how to save every drop.’

Dangerous fantasy?

Rocky Creek Dam. Photo supplied.

Cr Williams said that the current Rocky Creek Dam represents just over one year’s water with no rain, with 10% being used each month at the height of the last drought.

‘The idea that we’re going to suddenly find lots more water is fantasy. Dangerous fantasy.’

He said that Rous had already considered desal, purified recycled water, purple pipes and ‘just about’ all other options.

‘I accept there are significant environmental issues with the Dunoon Dam site,’ he said, ‘and they do have to be resolved, we can’t walk away from that.

‘But to suggest that we can supply our community with what is coming in future decades, we need to be upfront with our community and not pretend we can just do it with conservation.’

Cr Jeff Johnson foreshadowed a motion that Council write to Rous to put a pause on additional expenditure on the Dunoon Dam project and invite a range of experts to look at future alternatives to securing water for the region.

Cr Phillip Meehan said, ‘This is not a debate about the Dunoon dam. This is about water leakage in Ballina, and people are trying to convert it into a debate about the Dunoon Dam, which is unfortunate because so much more work needs to be done there.

‘Here in Ballina we have not been round the table at Rous County Council, we have not been involved in all the meetings and briefing around the Future Water Strategy.’

Cr Meehan said there was a need to consider all the options for water, ‘and that’s exactly what Rous are doing. I won’t support any action to cut the legs out from under the body of Council who have been working for years to secure potable water for our future.

‘They should be congratulated,’ he said.

Cr Ben Smith said he was happy to support a strategic plan for water efficiency, and that Ballina Council was ‘the leader’ in water efficiency in the region, although ‘you can only gain so much out of efficiency.’

He said, ‘I don’t have an opinion on the Dunoon Dam and it’s not mentioned in the motion. I’m surprised it was brought up.’

No urgency about dam EIS says Cr Cadwallader

Cr Sharon Cadwallader, who is also a Rous County Councillor, said ‘This is not a debate on the Dunoon Dam, but unfortunately the discussion has taken us there so I will address some of those issues.’

She said cultural heritage and ecological concerns ‘will always be the most important considerations in any proposed dam’ and that data gaps remained in Rous’s investigations.

Rous County Cr and Ballina Deputy Mayor Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

‘It’s been mentioned that Rous will be signing off on the EIS at our December meeting, not so, lots of work still needs to be done.

‘It could take six years to finalise the investigation. The dam might not be built for ten years although it’s an 18 month build,’ she said.

‘A long list of assessment still needs to be done before we decide whether a dam is a viable option.’

Cr Cadwallader said Emigrant Creek and Wilsons River were not viable water supply options in dry times, and desal came with its own environmental impacts.

‘We have to secure the water supply going forward.’ She said the dam was also the most cost effective option.

After a break for morning tea, Mayor Wright refused to accept Cr Johnson’s foreshadowed request to write to Rous about the dam, holding back that motion until the December council meeting, as it was ‘out of field and not related to the original notice of motion.’

Watch this space.

Former councillors oppose dam

Late last week, there was another twist in the Dunoon Dam saga with four former Rous Councillors writing to Rous County Council to ‘pause its pursuit of the dam at Dunoon.’

The letter said, ‘Between us we have 29 years of experience on the County Council (Simon Clough 4 years; Duncan Dey 4 years; Ros Irwin 8 years, 2 as chair; Richard Staples 13 years).

‘We are writing because we believe that Rous is moving in the wrong direction to provide water security by pursuing the Dunoon dam option. If Rous were to go ahead with this dam, we believe this would be a failure of governance by not ensuring a resilient water system in a hotter drier climate.

Area to be impacted by Dunoon Dam. Photo David Lowe.

‘As former councillors we know that committing to a $2-3,000,000 Environmental Impact Statement is tantamount to approving the dam project.’

The councillors’ reasons include the threats to Aboriginal heritage and the endangered ecological community (60 hectares of lowland rainforest), koalas, platypus and other endangered species, as well as damage to the hydrology of Rocky Creek.

‘If Rous were to go ahead with the dam it will be a nearly a quarter of a billion-dollar gamble, not a guarantee of a secure water system.

‘System resilience is all but ignored in Future Water Project 2060 and is critical in the era of climate heating.’

In their letter, the councillors call on Rous to ‘look at options that were dismissed in the narrowly focused attempt to secure the dam.

‘As former Rous Councillors we understand that water security is vital to our communities.

‘However, we are convinced that the Dunoon dam project is not the 21st century solution to this goal. We need fresh eyes looking at green powered desalination, roof water harvesting, reuse of water and of course water efficiency.’

WATER Northern Rivers Alliance is asking people who are opposed to the Dunoon Dam to add their names to a petition to ReThink Water.

More stories about the Dunoon Dam

Dam doesn’t give a damn about koalas

The proposed Dunoon Dam is still a possibility, though it has been voted against twice by the members of Rous County Council. Now information has emerged which presents another reason to shut down the threat of the dam once and for all.


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  1. As for the former Councillors running on their records – what is the result of the tenure? In the 1990’s Rous had no debt, $40m+ in the bank, low water charges and a reliable water supply – never needing system wide water restrictions in its history. After these Councillors had their way Rous has massive charges, debt it won’t pay off for another ten years (for water infrastructure built 15 years ago and basically not used) and an unreliable water supply even though total water demand is approximately where it was 20 years ago.

    Get ready for even higher water charges and a less reliable water supply if the former Councillors get what they want.

  2. Say Gary water demand is not where it was 20 years ago. The population growth has caused an increase in demand. As for massive charges well fantasy land.


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