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October 24, 2021

Call for deeper look at underground water

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Cr Eoin Johnston. Photo supplied

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.

In his motion which will come before council this week, Cr Johnston says, ‘Extraction from the Alstonville Aquifer is now the preferred option for water supply to the Ballina Shire, amongst others, to at least 2060.

‘The extensive planning for the Dunoon Dam was complex and detailed and up until late 2020 it was the recommended method of enhancing water supply for the Far North Coast,’ he said.

‘A number of residents of Ballina Shire and in particular those on the Alstonville Plateau have expressed surprise and concern at the sudden change of direction in future planning by Rous County Council.’

Limited understanding?

Rous County Council revised Future Water Plan recently went public.

Cr Johnson says that both the NSW Government’s Draft Far North Coast Water Strategy and the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s Report emphasise the limited understanding of our groundwater resources.

‘A briefing from suitably qualified personnel could address a number of issues including, but not exclusively, the volumes available, long term reliability, quality and recharge rates, relationships of aquifers at various depths, relationships between groundwater and surface water, the requirements of the intensive agricultural and horticultural industries and the effects of groundwater loss on the spiritual and cultural importance to the Bundjalung nation, particularly the Jali and Ngulingah Local Area Land councils,’ he says.

‘In light of the potential impact on the sustainable ecology of the Alstonville Plateau, I suggest it is not unreasonable to seek evidence-based data before this option is adopted.’

Notwithstanding the fact that underground water resources have already been extensively researched, and discussed, as part of the Rous Future Water Project 2060, Cr Johnston’s motion will be debated at Thursday’s meeting of Ballina Council.

While the Dunoon Dam does not currently have the numbers at Rous County Council to proceed, a group of councillors from Ballina and Richmond Valley are doing their best to get it back on the agenda.

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  1. Alstonville plateau is “PRIME” primary productive land, thoroughly dependent on the Aquifer’s underground water supply, which by the way is “Totally” dependent on rainfall to recharge, not spring fed like many other water sources, making Alstonville Aquifer severely impacted by drought conditions as we experience every year.
    “Build a damn dam & re-evaluate the current “Over” Allocation of Water Licence’s issued to draw on the aquifer, think more to the future rather than yourselves today.

  2. One thing that is NOT in dispute about the groundwater resources under Alstonville Plateau is that there are TWO aquifers, and that Rous CC is proposing to use the second far deeper one that is not currently used at all, and certainly not by agriculture on the plateau. There has been a disingenuous use of the term “Alstonville Aquifer” in recent weeks ,by people who do know better, presumably to mislead the public into thinking there is only one. So “A briefing from suitably qualified personnel” may well assist in dispelling some of the misinformation, and is a wisemove.
    While Ballina Shire Council is improving its knowledge of water supply options, it would be smart to also invite full briefings from suitably qualified experts from Water Services Australia and Water NSW , on the suite of modern water supply options that the NSW Productivity Commission has recommended, and the NSW government is working on. The path to real water security is a complex one, and the more knowledge councillors have, the better, even if that means some illusions of a simple fix are broken.

  3. Hi Jim,

    I totally agree with the need to bring in experts that can shed some light on alternative water supply options. I moved a motion some months ago asking for Ballina Council to invite a range of experts from Government, Universities, and the private sector to outline the alternatives. Unfortunately the motion wasn’t supported. Ironically, Cr Eoin Johnstone was one of the Councillors who didn’t support inviting experts to provide info on this important matter.

    While i support an additional briefing from Rous Water with regards to the aquifers, including the deeper one that isn’t being used, i disagree with the Rous strategy and the premise of this motion that ground water is the alternative to the dam, it’s NOT. Hopefully Rous Water is now working on alternative strategies. A briefing by their engineers will be a good opportunity to find out what options they are investigating. It’s not rocket science and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel on this one, there are plenty of examples of alternatives including the Warranambul Rooftop water harvesting project to name but one.

    Cr Jeff Johnson
    Ballina Shire Councillor

    • Well said, Jeff Johnson.

      There are many options apart from the dam or groundwater: recycling, renewable-powered desalination for the coast, tanks and stormwater harvesting all collect the water close to where it is used. They don’t require decimating irreplaceable environmental and cultural assets.

      And then there is increased water efficiency, which is the cheapest option of all (from All Options On The Table by the Water Services Association of Australia).

      And, most importantly, changing the culture of water use to one that emulates the 1000’s of farmers and other rural users who know how to be careful . A mix of profligacy and growth-without-limit creates a demand for endless new sources of water.

  4. Jeff, Your motion was to provide alternatives to the dam. At that stage the dam had been supported by all eight Rous County Councillors and, in the views of the experts, the dam was by far the best option. I was supporting that view and I saw your motion as an attempt to undermine that proposal. One of your options is what I am now opposing. I don’t accept the suggestion of inconsistency or “irony”.


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