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Byron Shire
August 14, 2022

Rous moves ahead without Dunoon Dam

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Revised Future Water Project plan. Rous County Council.

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.

The purpose of the meeting was to decide whether to put a revised draft of the Future Water Project 2060 on public exhibition, but Crs Sharon Cadwallader of Ballina and Robert Mustow of Richmond Valley each suggested amendments.

Ignoring the fact that the Dunoon Dam had been out-voted at two previous Rous meetings, Cr Cadwallader’s amendment called for Rous to concurrently consider the dam with other options, and continue geotechnical and other work, while delaying disposal of the land for at least three years.

Cr Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

She spoke about her concerns regarding over-reliance on underground water at Alstonville and said the next Rous Council (which would be responsible for implementing the later stages of the Future Water Plan) would need to have detailed information available about every option, including the dam.

Cr Cadwallader reminded councillors that ‘recycled effluent’ was not currently lawful in NSW, and compared the Dunoon Dam with the Pacific Highway upgrade, which she said had saved lives despite heavy environmental and other costs.

Pro-dam councils snubbed?

Cr Sandra Humphrys of Richmond Valley Council said investigation of the dam should continue ‘until other scenarios have been proven to be feasible’.

Yesterday’s Rous County Council meeting. Zoom screenshot.

Expressing her disbelief that Rous was considering selling off the dam land, she described Alstonville farmers and two councils as having been ‘snubbed’, saying there were significant environmental and financial risks associated with non-dam water options.

Speaking against the proposed amendment, Byron Bay’s Basil Cameron said the Dunoon Dam was an ‘all our eggs in one basket’ option, and called for Rous to move towards decentralised water options and new approaches. ‘We do need to diversify, that’s our best protection in the long run,’ he said.

Ramping up the hyperbole, Cr Mustow said the community was in for ‘a world of pain’ if the dam was permanently taken off the table, and there was no certainty that Ballina Council was going to release the Marom source to Rous.

He suggested some of the other options ‘wouldn’t float’, including groundwater from new sources, desal and ‘recycled sewer’. Cr Mustow then proceeded to suggest that councillors who were members of the Labor Party had responded to pressure from Bob Carr, rather than the best interests of their communities.

Into the trenches?

After some heated argument, and a partial withdrawal from Cr Mustow, Byron Bay’s Cr Simon Richardson waded in, saying he was concerned about the risk of divisions widening in the community as different interest groups ‘jump in trenches and smash each other.’

Cr Simon Richardson. Photo David Hancock.

‘That would be an incredible shame for this region if we allow that to happen or goad it into happening,’ he said.

Cr Richardson urged the involvement of ministers at a state level now that the path forward was becoming clearer.

‘This issue is multi-generational, it covers the whole region, and has state and national implications,’ he said. ‘We need those decision-makers around the table.’

Cr Richardson said he was ‘staggered’ that the Lismore local member had not managed to advance the issue or even respond to Rous in a month.

‘We need to go beyond pitting Alstonville farmers against Dunoon environmentalists,’ he said. ‘We’ve failed if we can’t manage this discourse in a civil way, to inform people about the implications.’

Cr Richardson said he was content for the revised plan to go out to the community for feedback. ‘I’m interested to see how many will get out of the trenches and explore the nuances of this.

‘We’ve made our decision and it’s incumbent on us to let the next council have the courage to go beyond loud voices and act for the whole community.’

Community response

Cr Darlene Cook said that the community had responded to the last draft of the Future Water Project, and paid attention, just as Rous had asked them to. She noted that concerns about the dam, groundwater and indigenous heritage had all been prominent in feedback.

Cr Darlene Cook. Photo David Lowe.

‘This amendment looks like it’s trying to put a back door into the whole process,’ she said.

Cr Cook said it was undermining to sneak the Dunoon Dam back into the future water debate, and noted there were campaigns being orchestrated on social media against recycled water, ‘but also people out there who believe we should be looking at new options; stormwater reuse, potable reuse, better catchment off new developments, better demand management.’

Cr Cook noted that dams were increasingly regarded by the Productivity Commission as a waste of resources and money, after substantial cost-blow-outs with little water security to show for it.

With discussions currently taking place about a demonstration water recycling plant in Sydney, she said Rous was well placed to lead with the Perradenya pilot.

Chair’s view

Rous County Council Chair Keith Wiliams. Photo David Lowe.

Rous Chair Keith Williams said the Dunoon Dam had already been put out to the community as an option, and ‘we got a clear message back from community that they wanted us to look at other options’.

Noting that Rous had a detailed groundwater strategy in place since as early as 2014, Cr Williams said it was now appropriate to ask the community what they thought of the revised strategy.

He described the proposed amendment as ‘just a way of keeping the dam project alive’, saying it would be ‘terrible if we were to go out with one document, but continue to do a range of other things in conflict with what we’re asking the community for feedback about.’

Rous County Councillors
(L-R) Cr Simon Richardson, Cr Vanessa Ekins, Phillip Rudd (GM), Cr Sandra Humphrys, Cr Keith Williams, Michael McKenzie (Future Water Project Manager), Cr Sharon Cadwallader, Cr Darlene Cook, Cr Robert Mustow.

After Cr Cadwallader’s amendment was lost, Cr Mustow put forward another amendment at short notice, which was to poll all the constituents of the four councils regarding the dam and its alternatives.

Cr Mustow said, ‘They have to understand they will be drinking bore water, desalinated ocean water, and recycled sewage water. I see it as a grassroots poll for everyone to have their say.’

Most of his fellow Rous councillors did not share his enthusiasm, questioning the price tag of such a poll and the electoral commission complications.

Cr Mustow’s amendment failed.

Back to the future

In returning to the original motion, Lismore’s Cr Vanessa Ekins said that while she wasn’t entirely happy with the wording of the new report (which had some ‘questionable’ costs and not enough about recycled water) it did ‘send a clear message to our community and government that we support groundwater and recycled water and doing further research.’

Cr Vanessa Ekins. Photo David Lowe.

She reminded her fellow councillors that only 2% of the water they were discussing was actually going to be used for drinking, with the rest used for things like ‘washing dirty socks, flushing toilets and watering gardens’.

Cr Ekins said she was keen to see what the public thought of the revised water plans for the next decades, with the next task after that to go to government to get it funded.

The motion to put the revised draft Future Water Project 2060 on public display was finally passed unanimously.

More stories about Dunoon Dam:

The Valley of the Dammed

Less than 2.5 per cent of water on Earth is fresh, and humans have dammed over half of the rivers around the globe. Dams significantly modify landscapes and have immense ecological and social consequences.


Lismore Council votes on the Future Water Project 2060 – again

Looking at Lismore's the never-ending issue of water – not enough or too much – there was yet another vote about its future on Tuesday evening.


Indigenous Minister pressured over Dunoon Dam consultation

NSW Nationals MLC Ben Franklin was recently pressured over his lack of consultation with Indigenous custodians regarding the contentious Dunoon Dam proposal.


Expert says ‘it’s reasonable to rule the Dunoon Dam option out’

It appears Cr Big Rob cherry-picked Professor Stuart White's comments about the Dunoon Dam and used them out of context which may have not given the other Rous Councillors the full picture of the viability of the project.


Rule by populist backwoods hicks

With the new Rous County Council (RCC) being made up of 6:2 pro-dam councillors there is now a demand for RCC to shelve the current Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy (IWCM) and put the Dunoon Dam (DD) back on...


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  1. This is very reminiscent of the other debacle of selling off public assets to benefit a few , namely the ‘horsey-bikey track’.
    In both cases perfectly good public investments in irreplaceable infrastructure are to be destroyed at the behest of a few professional zealots and their dupes.
    If the present system is being abused by commercial irrigators, then cut them off the town supply, all that is needed is a decision .
    Wouldn’t it be informative to see who it is that wants to buy the site ?
    It is obvious that this dam site is the cheapest and most practical solution to the ever increasing demand for water, the site is paid for, the planning done and in-spite of the hastily arranged “indigenous heritage “, not having the guts to proceed will result in ongoing decades of conflict.
    Cheers, G”)

  2. Major financial pain for the ratepayers is what Rous voted for. Ballina Council claims Rous has increased water charges by 12% in 2020/21 and will increase charges by 6% or 7% in each of the next three years. These increased charges don’t include the recently proposed works, and when those costs are passed on water prices will explode again.
    If Rous is so keen on the Alstonville Groundwater source, why haven’t they used the existing groundwater bore for 13 years and don’t intend to use it any time soon. The most likely reason they aren’t using it is because people complained so much when they used it before. It seems like history will repeat and Rous will spend millions investigating and maybe even constructing the Alstonville Groundwater source, then not use it (like the existing Alstonville and Woodburn Groundwater supplies) or massively under use it (like Emigrant Creek Dam and Wilsons River Source).

  3. “Cameron […] called for Rous to move towards decentralised water options and new approaches”: grandstanding yet again while offering no concrete ideas, only waffle. His “Councillor Obstruction” act flies yet again, perhaps in the hope of being relevant. Must be an election in sight. Ho effing hum!

  4. “the hastily arranged “indigenous heritage“ … how rude and racist is that? Thank goodness for the local Widjabul-Wiyabal Tribe activists, there’s nothing hastily arranged about their custodianship and love of every stick and stone and native creature and plant of this country, it goes back countless millennia. You’d have to be stubbornly ignorant, surely, to be able to sneer at this ancient heritage.

    • Yep exactly,
      If “every stick and stone and native creature and plant of this country” is included in the ‘secret cultural men/women’s business ‘ then nothing is exempt from some spurious claim of indigenous heritage. So I suppose we all, will be subject to the whims of the ancient culture that never managed in 60,000 yrs to progress beyond the stone age, utilise a wheel and have an average life expectancy of around thirty years.
      So…..sneer, I do ! But I’m nowhere near as racist as those who believe that ‘Aboriginality’ confers some sort of Magical weight to to an individuals opinion, no! this is supposed to be a democracy, and let me reassure you, yours and my heritage is obviously just as ancient , just not as primitive. Cheers G”)


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