Since Rous County Council voted to abandon the Dunoon Dam as a potential solution to the future water needs of the Northern Rivers, a new group has emerged called Our Future Northern Rivers. As of this morning, 74 people have liked the group on Facebook and it has 103 followers.
Mr Curtin agreed to answer a few questions from The Echo on condition that his answers were printed in full.
The Q&A follows.
QUESTION 1: Why is Our Future Northern Rivers running a scare campaign against underground water aimed at farmers and residents on the plateau, when Rous has explained on numerous occasions that their plan to use the deeper aquifer at Alstonville for drinking water will actually relieve pressure on existing aquifer sources for agriculture? Do you not accept their science? If not, why?
Austin Curtin said, ‘Where is the evidence that this is a scare campaign? Rous has to consult with the entire community and the community needs information they understand to make a decision on whether they want to be drinking water from the aquifers, desalination or recycled sewerage and drain water as a permanent water supply into the future. They are the only three options currently being posed in the revised IWCM document.
‘Ballina Shire Council’s Report of the Environment presented to the NSW Government, the Brodie (et al) report written by 30 well known scientists and the Chief Scientist’s report containing the Alstonville Aquifer all state that the Alstonville Aquifer is over allocated and under stress.’
QUESTION 2: Why are you campaigning against recycled water, when this will also increase water availability in the region, including during drought, and has already been proven to be a boon for agriculture in particular?
Mr Curtin said, ‘We have no objection to recycled water being used for industry, agriculture and sporting fields etc.
‘But why would you use recycled water for drinking and showering when we live in the wettest region in the state with 2800mm annual rainfall? In the past four months the rain that has fallen in the upper catchment, if stored in a dam, would have supplied sufficient water during a four year prolonged drought period.’
QUESTION 3: Are you opposed to the pilot project to create recycled water for potable use at Perradenya?
Mr Curtin said: ‘The residents of Perradenya estate should make the decision on their water choices; but it also needs to be understood that the taxpayer will have to pay $4 million to complete the infrastructure.
‘The project will also require regulatory approval, political will and an opt in ratio to determine whether the project goes ahead.’
QUESTION 4: How does it help the community to talk about ’toilet to tap’ and the like, when purified recycled water is already a proven, safe technology in many places around the world and according to many experts inevitable for Australia, even in the traditionally wet Northern Rivers?
Mr Curtin said, ‘There are two types of recycled water, direct and indirect. Many communities around the world have limited alternatives and therefore have no alternative other than use recycled water. It is our understanding that there is no capacity for indirect water storage in the Rous system so direct recycled water is the only remaining option.
‘The use of direct recycled water is currently not approved by the Health Authorities in Australia. Additionally, there is insufficient sewerage and drain water available to provide the required water to everyone on the Rous grid particularly in drought periods.
‘Most people in the community have no idea what “direct or indirect potable recycled water” means but they do understand “toilet to tap”. And how is the general public supposed to make an informed decision on a long term water strategy for our region when public approval, regulatory approval, and political will have not been demonstrated.
‘There are no costings for the recycled water option in the revised IWCM document. What is evident, however is that recycled water is the most expensive option in a whole of life comparison of all three proposed options.’
QUESTION 5: Why are your supporters trying to get the Dunoon Dam back on the table now, when the idea has been rejected by vote at Rous, instead of being vocal during the long previous submission period when this was the subject under public discussion?
Mr Curtin said, ‘Due to COVID-19, Rous admits there was very poor cut through and communication with the general public regarding the previous version of the IWCM Strategy on public exhibition. Most people had no idea that public consultation was taking place. This is indicated by less than 1% response from the regional population where Rous supply water.
‘Additionally, for 25 years the dam had been on the agenda and the community assumed that it would continue to be an option. By informing the public of the issues associated with the current consultation, the outcome should demonstrate the wishes of the entire community.
‘There is currently a population of 110,000 on the Rous grid and the 5-3 vote to exclude the dam and dispose of the land at the December 16, 2020 meeting was a planned, deliberate act along party political and ideological lines.
‘In relation to removing the dam as an option the recording of the meeting hears Byron Bay Cr Simon Richardson say quite clearly, “I think sometimes what we’ve done is, we’ve burnt the bridge behind us so there is no retreat.”‘
QUESTION 6: Considering the well-known native title, heritage, environmental and flood issues with the proposed dam (not to mention the staunch opposition of the local community around Dunoon and The Channon), do you not accept the risk of protracted and expensive legal disputes if the Dunoon Dam issue is pursued?
Mr Curtin said, ‘There are many other issues that need to be considered with all four options and each must be thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, the Ainsworth report is not publicly available so the community has no way of understanding the indigenous issues.
‘The threat of legal action and protracted disputes should not stop the majority from voicing their opinion and having their preferences thoroughly investigated. Don’t we live in a democracy???’
QUESTION 7. If you do accept these risks, how do you justify large amounts of public money and time being spent on an option which is likely to be a dead end, instead of dealing with the looming crisis?
Mr Curtin said, ‘Perhaps those carrying out the actions should consider this question… and who will be holding up the issue “in a looming crisis” of future water shortages. Each of the communities associated with the aquifer, desalination and recycled water options also have the right to express their opinions and concerns.
‘The Tyagarah aquifers are under the environmentally sensitive nature reserve. The proposed desalination plant in West Byron will have its waste outlet into the Byron Marine Park. Don’t those communities have a right to “have a say”???’
QUESTION 8. Does Our Future Northern Rivers have any interest in pursuing other options to deal with the predicted water shortages in the Northern Rivers, apart from a new dam and underground water?
Are you familiar with Warrnambool’s rooftop harvesting initiative for example? Is this something that could work in the many new developments around Ballina and elsewhere in the region?
Mr Curtin said, ‘There are many water storage mechanisms and options available for new developments. We are currently addressing the water source that is relevant to the area serviced by Rous County Council.
‘At the moment the focus for Our Future Northern Rivers is getting the dam back on the table as an option for our future Water Security. It must be thoroughly investigated because none of the three options currently being offered individually or collectively are workable in the real world operations of the Rous County Council grid.’
QUESTION 9. What is your organisation’s plan going forward with this campaign? Are you planning to make the Dunoon Dam an issue in the forthcoming council elections?
Austin Curtin said, ‘At the moment our focus is getting the dam option back on the table as an option for our future water security. It was an irresponsible and calculated move to exclude the dam at this stage of discussions in the IWCM Future Water Strategy 2060.’
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