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June 18, 2021

Rous chair says cheaper water is a ‘big dam lie’

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Chair of Rous County Council, Cr Keith Williams. Photo David Lowe.

Ballina Councillor and Chair of Rous County Council, Keith Williams, says he is setting the record straight about the pro dam campaign that claims it will lower costs and prices for water if the proposed dam at Dunoon and The Channon goes ahead.

Cr Williams says the claims are deceitful. ‘I am concerned that this group is conning people into signing a petition based on information that is demonstrably false.

‘Building a dam at Dunoon will cost at least $150 million more in the next 10 years than the recommended mixed source strategy.

Cr Williams says that financed by long term loans this will cost the community an additional $6 million more per annum, a 25% increase on current costs. ‘This does not include a figure for the loss of 52Ha of koala habitat, 33Ha of Big Scrub Rainforest (5% of all that remains) and state significant Indigenous heritage.’

Cr Williams says the alternative path charted by Rous uses a variety of smaller schemes to add capacity when needed. ‘It is adaptable to changes in technology, costs, demand and climate.’

Nan Nicholson.

Pro-dam case based on flawed accounting

Speaking on behalf of WATER Northern Rivers, The Channon resident Nan Nicholson says that the pro-dam case based on flawed accounting.  ‘The Dunoon Dam would cause higher water rates for the next 40 years.

‘The claim that the Dunoon Dam would be less expensive than other options is based on misleading figures. When Rous calculated the marginal cost of water from the dam, it assumed that all its water would be used. This is an erroneous assumption. It is the amount of water that is used, not the total capacity, that determines the cost per megalitre.

Mrs Nicholson says that using the total volume of the dam to calculate cost gives an unrealistically low estimate of the cost of water from the Dunoon dam. ‘The bulk of the dam expenditure would occur in the first year or so when the dam is being constructed. By comparison, the spending on other alternatives is spread out, going up in steps as new water sources are required. For example, several larger projects  – Tyagarah and Newrybar – will not be undertaken for decades.

A striking picture

‘The striking picture that emerges is that the financial costs of the dam exceed the preferred Rous scenario in every year until 2060.  This extra cost will have to be borne by the current generation of ratepayers for the next 40 years. In other words, the costs and therefore water rates, would be higher for the next 40 years under the dam proposal than they would be under Rous’ preferred option of diverse sources.’

The Alliance feel that supporters of the proposed dam are ignoring the likelihood that the final cost would be significantly higher than Rous’ $220 million estimate.  Jim Richardson of WATER Northern Rivers says that In its draft National Water Reform 2020 report, the Productivity Commission says the cost of major dams routinely blows out by between 49% and 120%.’

Quoting Prof Stuart White (UTS Sydney), and his submission to Rous’s 2020 water plan, Mr Richardson says that Prof While argues that the dam is unnecessary. ‘He says it would increase the cost of water significantly, and it would run the risk of becoming a very expensive “white elephant”.

Prof Stuart White – UTS Sydney.

System-wide efficiency program is the cheapest option

‘White says that a system-wide efficiency program is the cheapest option. He argues that if used in conjunction with contingency planning, a water efficiency program could defer or eliminate the need for a new water source in the region. He says such a program could also create local employment, make the Northern Rivers a leading hub for water efficiency innovation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

‘I believe Prof White, not the unsubstantiated claims of the dam apologists,’ says Jim Richardson.

Cr Williams says the analysis presented by Rous in the Future Water Plan shows that while the dam is cheaper on a whole of life (80 yrs) basis, it takes until 2065 to break even with the alternative. ‘The dam requires this generation to massively overspend on a single strategy. In short, building the dam will push up water prices substantially. Claiming otherwise is nothing but a big dam lie.’

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  1. The Chairman was quoted in this newspaper on September 8, 2020 (https://www.echo.net.au/2020/09/rous-county-council-chair-keith-williams-responds-to-annie-kia-and-nan-nicholson/) saying that “A second dam on Rocky Creek is now being recommended for further investigation because it is the lowest cost option for our region’s future water supply, costing some $250 million less than the next cheapest option, groundwater, on a ‘whole of life’ basis ($650m – $900m).”

    As for Tyagarah Groundwater the Chairman said “‘Relying on mining millions of litres of groundwater from the sand aquifers under our coastal wetlands at Tyagara and Newrybar, the report has found poor quality water, expensive treatment and distribution costs and the potential for major environmental impacts.”

    Seems like the Chairman has made a good argument for the dam and there is no evidence that the facts have changed regarding costs or water quality, therefore one should conclude the dam is the cheapest solution and groundwater is ruled out based on poor water quality, cost and major environmental impacts, based on the Chairman’s own words.

    • Well , if you read the article and look at the updated costings, there has been evidence that “the facts have changed”. The 2020 Echo Article quotes the Chair as saying “Any decision to proceed with a dam still requires substantial investigations that will take some years.”, and here we are after years of investigation that has identified the “facts” have changed, (and not only for costings but also on the state of the environment, and a broad society recognition that destroying Aboriginal sites is culpable racism).

  2. Add on the cost of the land they are going to submerge.
    There is another $500 million.
    Of course, they think they get the land for nothing.
    Doing away with natural land is a cost to the community as the trees and vegetation purify the air.

  3. Last Friday, 21st May, my wife and I received a letter from Rous County Council signed by GM Phillip Rudd, informing us that Rous County Council has endorsed the revised draft Future Water Project (FWP) 2060, on public exhibition for a period of eight weeks, closing on 28 May – just seven days after we received the letter.
    The letter was dated 28th April. So, either Rous or Australia Post held on to it for at least a couple of weeks before it entered the postal system. Either way, it was dated half way into the exhibition period. So much for full and frank consultation!
    Putting that aside, the draft FWP presupposes climate change in the next 20 years (of course) as well as a growth in the demand for water, presumably owing to an increased population. A larger population (taken as a given by so many “service” providers) means increased demand and “justifies” increased supply. On the other hand it could be said that the availability of a larger water supply permits, fosters and encourages a larger population. Unfortunately, there never seems to be a point at which those who justify increased demand say “enough is enough”. Those who make the decisions never ask themselves whether we have more than enough already.
    I prefer that we stick with the current water supply, manage demand well and, when politicians and developers tell us that we have to expand our population, we can tell them to bugger off as we have enough water for the residents and the multitude of tourists who visit Byron Shire every year.
    Earth has a large enough population already and so does Byron Shire.
    If you think that I’m a NIMBY, you’re wrong. I’m a proud NIABY, Not In Anyone’s Backyard.

  4. Interesting that the GM of Rous said on ABC radio this morning that the dam was the cheapest option over the long term by at least $200 million.
    12 bores into the Tyagarah aquifer are proposed which will depletie the water that sustains the Nature reserve in which over 180 koalas are formally registered throughout the area (compared to the 6 that were found above the proposed dam waterline in Rous formal documentation)
    And who wants a desalination plant in Byron Bay with the inlet and waste outlet pipes into the Byron Marine Park
    And how many in the Byron Shire population are interested in recycled toilet to tap water as a permanent water supply source??
    These are the alternatives that are being offered by the Rous Councillors now the dam is off the table.
    WAKE UP BYRON might be a good three word slogan regarding the issue.

  5. In the early 2000 after a drought that had our councils wondering what form a level 6 water restriction might take, it was decided to call for expert advice as to the way forward to ensure our water security for the future . I understand that after much research and 3.4 million dollar expenditure , the agreed position of the engineers , ecologists , etc . for the ensuring of our water security was to build the Dunoon Dam . I believe this is still the right option and the only thing that has changed in our area is the political climate . How dare Keith Williams use his position as Rous chair to play his politics . Follow the science not the emotion and build our Dam.

    • I am constantly amazed by the irony involved in suggestions that the solutions to the effects of climate change (more frequent and more severe droughts) take the form of measures that will exacerbate climate change (like destroying rain forest). I guess that’s just what it means to follow the science?

    • Poor Wayne Crawford, have you ever heard of cognitive dissonance? In your case its a drought in 2000 (climate change) and being Pro Dam at the same time. Now i understand your logic; droughts are bad, no water is bad, we need more water for a future inevitable drought. Sure that is some fine thinking and if say we already had a dam which could be upgraded and improved upon to help mitigate this terrible inevitable drought stricken future then sure that makes sense. But here comes the dissonance; destroying earths natural mitigation to droughts in order to mitigate droughts DOESN’T WORK. let alone the moral imperative of saving rain forests that stretch back to when Australia was connected to Antarctica or respecting and honoring Indigenous burial sites. So, sorry Wayne, although you might have an opinion its still wrong.

  6. Unfortunately some people are trying to use the Dunoon dam issue to divide us, and further their political careers.
    However, we are resilient, and could become the most water smart region in Australia. This is the direction Rous is now taking.
    Keep the dam out of the plan!


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