Water is again a contentious subject as Rous County Council prepares to take submissions on their plans for the future.
RCC says that activating existing groundwater sources full-time in Alstonville and utilising underground aquifers in Tyagarah now form the centrepiece of Rous County Council’s revised draft Future Water Project 2060.
Rous’s revised strategic direction also recommends implementing more innovative water-saving measures and finding ways to overcome the barriers to using purified recycled water for drinking purposes in NSW.
Ballina Shire, Byron Shire, Lismore City and Richmond Valley residents will be able to provide feedback when the revised draft Future Water Project 2060 goes on public exhibition for eight weeks from Thursday, 1 April 2021 until Friday, 28 May 2021.
Revised approach provides a suitable alternative
Rous County Council’s Chairperson Keith Williams said the revised approach provides a suitable alternative following the decision last year not to proceed with further investigations into the Dunoon Dam. ‘Despite this refocus, the critical water security challenges facing our regional supply from forecast population growth and changing climate conditions still remain.
‘Transforming the local government-owned bores around Alstonville into a primary water source is a priority, especially as it will ensure we can keep up with forecast demand from 2024.’
Mr Williams says that the revised future water project sets out a staged approach under which additional groundwater sources are gradually brought online, while at the same time enhanced demand management initiatives and potential purified recycled water schemes are identified.
Save Alstonville Aquifer
A local community group are not so happy about the use of the Alstonville groundwater.
The Save Alstonville Aquifer group say they represent concerned residents in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, who are deeply concerned about a recent decision by Rous County Council to extract large volumes of water from the Alstonville Aquifer.
They say the decision flies in the face of technical advice over several years in support of a new dam to provide water for the region’s rapidly growing urban population.
Until late last year, Rous County Council itself was a keen advocate of building a dam at Dunoon. The group says in a bewildering about-face, Council has resolved to shelve a project that would provide 50 gigalitres, representing an additional five years’ water supply.
Political pressure and a vocal minority
‘It appears that political pressure and a vocal minority are responsible for overturning a project delivering the best technical solution and cheapest option over the longer-term for ratepayers in the region,’ said a Save Alstonville Aquifer spokesperson.
Save Alstonville Aquifer representatives met with Rous County Council staff on 23 March and posed a series of questions for the water utility. These questions centred on what they say is the uncertainty relating to the sustainability of the Alstonville Aquifer, as evidenced in the NSW Government’s draft Far North Coast Regional Water Strategy and the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s report on bottled water. Evidence from experts going all the way back to the early 1990s indicates that Alstonville Aquifer is already under stress.
The group says there is a need for technical evidence that taking water from the aquifer is now a better option than building Dunoon Dam; plus evidence that extracting large volumes from the aquifer will not affect the region’s wetlands and remnant rainforest. The draft Regional Water Strategy clearly points out the dependency of surface ecology systems on the Alstonville Aquifer, and the group claim there is unseemly haste by Rous County Council is seeking to sell off the land acquired for Dunoon Dam.
Save Alstonville Aquifer’s representative says that a number of councillors in affected local governments share Save Alstonville Aquifer’s disquiet concerning the decision to rely on Alstonville Aquifer for urban water supply.
Key water supply security actions
RCC says some of the key water supply security actions covered by the revised draft Future Water Project 2060 include:
• Securing the upgrade of the existing Marom Creek Water Treatment Plant to permanently supply the Wollongbar and Alstonville communities in addition to Wardell etc, and redevelop existing groundwater bores within the Alstonville aquifer to provide drought resilience.
• Investigating two new potential schemes for eventually utilising groundwater from the Tyagarah area as a primary supply.
• Rolling outsmart water metering for all of Rous’ 2,000 direct retail customers.
• Instigating a four-year plan to further address water loss from the Rous supply network.
• Pioneering the use of purified recycled water by building a pilot treatment plant and direct potable reuse scheme to supply the Perradenya Estate near Lismore.
• Investigating indirect potable reuse schemes
Rous wants to hear from residents
RCC General Manager Phillip Rudd said Rous would like to hear from as many residents as possible over the next two months. ‘We’re always looking to improve engagement with communities across our entire service area, especially in relation to critical regional issues such as water security and the use of new water sources,’ he said.
Residents can visit the project’s dedicated webpage at www.rous.nsw.gov.au/futurewater to find out more and provide any feedback from Thursday, 1 April 2021.