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Byron Shire
June 16, 2021

Dunoon Dam

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Craig Zerk, East Ballina

As an engineer with over 45 years’ experience working in the water supply industry, I support the new water Strategy proposed by Rous Water and I am opposed to the Dunoon Dam.

There are some very significant reasons for favouring groundwater over construction of a new dam downstream of the existing Rocky Creek Dam.

Economically, groundwater offers the lowest Net Present Value and can be sequentially staged over decades to meet the needs of a growing population. By comparison, the dam involves a huge up-front cost (the estimate as at 2020 was $220 million – but we know that the cost of these kinds of projects always blows out significantly). The dam is actually sized to meet the needs of a more than 70 per cent increase in population to the year 2080 but would need to be funded by the present ratepayers (even though we already have enough water for our present needs).

Building another dam a very short distance downstream of the existing dam (which is currently our main water source) is not a wise decision since it is highly desirable that we diversify our supplies to address risks associated with drought, natural disasters, and acts of terror.

Developing the groundwater resources progressively in line with population growth also allows us to change the strategy in response to changes in circumstances and adopt technologies (such as indirect potable re-use) that will inevitably emerge over coming decades.

Given the great uncertainties associated with predicting how our climate will change, the reliability of the dam cannot be accurately quantified, so its ability to meet future needs is uncertain. Having a flexible and staged water strategy would allow us to respond better to such uncertainty.

Development of our largely under-utilised groundwater has virtually no impact on the environment. By comparison the dam requires clearing 57 hectares of predominantly native vegetation including Big Scrub Rainforest. According to Wikipedia, ‘the Big Scrub was the largest area of subtropical lowland rainforest in eastern Australia. It was intensively cleared for agricultural use in the 19th century by settlers. Less than one per cent now remains’. The dam will also remove habitat and corridors for a range of important species, for example the koala, glossy-black cockatoo and pPlatypus.

The dam will also flood items of very significant aboriginal cultural heritage value.

The dam storage would cover an area of 253 hectares and will lock up another 234 hectares of buffer around its perimeter. This would sterilise a significant area of potentially highly productive agricultural land.

Rous Water has now made the right decision to start tapping into our vast and largely under-utilised groundwater resources to meet the growing water supply needs of our region.

In spite of this, in January this year the following Ballina Shire Councillors voted in favour of asking Rous County Council to ‘continue with further investigations as to the viability of the Dunoon Dam proposal’: Sharon Cadwallader, Eoin Johnston, Sharon Parry, Stephen McCarthy, Phillip Meehan, and Ben Smith.

I urge all residents of the Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Richmond Valley local government areas to lodge a brief submission with Rous Water prior to 28 May to oppose the Dunoon Dam and give support to the current proposal to utilise our groundwater resources as proposed in the Future Water Strategy.

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  1. Great letter Craig – covered the important aspects of this issue. It’s hard to believe that those six Ballina councillors could favour the continuation of investigations for a new dam – and ignore the well reasoned and substantial reasons for discarding the new dam option. ** It should be noted that Rous Water’s *revised* plan rejected the new dam option, yet some people want to flog the dead horse.

    The non-party aligned community group WATER Northern Rivers has worked to raise community awareness of the many aspects of this issue and made submissions to Rous Water and other organisations, that looks at a number of options and reject the new dam idea. https://waternorthernrivers.org

  2. It is looking like ratepayers are about to be massively hit again by increased water charges.

    The groundwater options proposed by Rous are not fully developed and have large data gaps (e.g. confirmation is required that the claimed water yield from the proposed bores is available). There are also significant errors and omissions in the costings.

    The Jacobs report states (p5) that “no bores have been constructed and pump tested as yet” meaning that the claimed yields from the aquifers are best estimates only and Jacobs adds “must be verified by thorough field testing of pilot production bores”. How can you adopt a bore as a water source if it is unknown if the water is available?

    For example the Converys Lane bore at Alstonville went dry when pumping at 2L/s in 2003 and hasn’t been used since then. Now Rous claim they will drill a deeper bore and get 35L/s. Converys Lane is already 188m deep – and no evidence is supplied by Rous that the extra water is available at a greater depth.

    As for costings there is a major error in the costing for the Alstonville Groundwater and $20million in negative costs are erroneously added in the cost spreadsheet (p147 of Rous’s March 2021 business paper) . That doesn’t provide much confidence that the costings, engineering assumptions and calculations in the report are sound and have been thoroughly checked.

    For the Newrybar scheme the groundwater is saline and Reverse Osmosis is required (essentially a desalination plant is to be constructed). The consultant (p11 of Jacobs Report) states that “No method or cost for transfer and disposal of these waste flows has been included in this concept design or cost estimates at this stage.” The Newrybar option therefore will include a major extra cost for disposal of extremely salty water (probably an ocean outfall) that is not included in the final costings.

    The Mayor of Lismore (also a Rous Councillor) was quoted in the ABC saying “Water isn’t actually expensive — it’s actually quite cheap” (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-27/water-supplies-for-nsw-north-coast/100166944). I think this sums up the opinion of a lot of the elite in the water industry – and why the price of water may be about to increase significantly and ratepayers will have to pay a lot extra for their water.


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