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Byron Shire
September 26, 2021

Is population growth the real reason for the Dunoon Dam push?

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Richard Gates

It’s very clear that the State government’s push for population growth is the main driving force behind the proposed revisit of the Dunoon Dam proposal with Ballina Council mayoral aspirant Sharon Cadwallader its advocate, and Richmond Valley Council Mayor, Robert Mustow, who is also on Rous County Council (RCC), a cheerleader (see The Echo online 23 July 2021).

What does an increased population mean for water security?

Population mantra

Yes, climate change will most likely reduce catchment flows and impact water supply for the future given the ‘runaway train’ that climate change is, but population growth has always been the mantra of the major parties in NSW and is the real driving force behind the Dam being put back on the agenda.   

If you complain about growth you are accused of being a NIMBY (not in my backyard) or against ‘the future of grandchildren who will never be able to live here’; a specious argument at best but an old sawhorse often cited by proponents for all kinds of inappropriate development.

Before any further money is wasted, yet again, on the Dunoon Dam matter, Rous Council and decision-makers might like to revisit the Discussion Paper, A Region of Villages published in 2001 and supported by local councils and promulgated by the Northern Rivers Regional Strategy Secretariat.

The work of that Secretariat was widely supported by local councils at the time. The paper examined the ‘carrying capacity’ of the land, that is how many people can you stick on Far North Coast land sustainably. It concluded that we were nowhere near the carrying capacity of the land. Richmond Valley Council and others loved that conclusion. Richmond Valley Council has always been a council addicted to growth, pushed by goals set by the State government for local government areas. Still is, as the State government’s handmaiden.

Deathly silence

Richmond Valley Council started holding workshops with the local community with keen developer, the late Cr Sullivan, leading the charge. The workshops came to an abrupt halt when it was discovered that there was an error in the ‘carrying capacity’ calculation. A real ‘whoops’ moment. Once corrected it was clear WE’RE ALREADY PAST THE CARRYING CAPACITY OF THE LAND.

Nothing more was heard of the paper and its concepts. The workshops ceased. The keen supporters disappeared into the ether! Deathly silence.

What’s interesting to observe is that when the data supported growth, all those with a develop-and-be-damned mentality wholeheartedly embraced the evidence. But when the evidence didn’t fit their partisan view of the world, the evidence and appropriate actions were abandoned.  The push for growth continued. Such is the quality of decision-making in our political world.

We need to revisit the concept of population growth as the Region of Villages Discussion Paper did 20 years ago and ask ‘Do we really want or need a 37 per cent growth in population on the north coast and if so, can the country sustain such growth?

This is a matter which is in our hands. Macquarie Street needs to stop imposing its developer-driven nonsense on us and future generations, and if it wants to be useful – do a proper analysis on the carrying capacity of the land and propose a strategy for the future of the north coast that is not just loudly-trumpeted pages of empty rhetoric and glossy pictures without hard evidence, as is so often the case with government ‘strategies for the future’.

There are limits to growth, and consequences if you ignore them. Take a look at what’s happening in the rest of world, or perhaps parts of the Far North Coast which are already under the yoke of inappropriate development creating new demands for water supply.

The Dunoon Dam, if built, will come at a very substantial cost, and that cost is not just dollars.

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  1. The State government’s drive for population growth drives a damned wall proposal into the Northern Rivers Hinterland’s rainforest to flood that forest and to submerge it. This Dunoon Dam proposal promulgated by Ballina Council mayoral publicist Sharon Cadwallader and Richmond Valley Council Mayor, Robert Mustow, are on the Rous County Council (RCC), (see The Echo online 23 July 2021). Meanwhile this Island continent Australia is surrounded by water.

  2. Jobson Growth is responsible for many of our present ills, always there to turn the first sod, but never around to repair the consequent damage.
    Australians have been fed the lie that a “Big Australia ” is essential for our economic well being. It is not. The real effects of massive unregulated population increase are completely unafordable housing, shoddy and dangerous new constructions, deminishing real wages, the overloading of schools and hospitals and roads, and massive environmental destruction.
    We live on the driest inhabited continent on Earth, and it is getting drier, and will get drier and hotter still as the Climate Catastrophe gathers pace. We can no longer afford the out dated and discredited NoeLiberal ideology of unlimited growth in a limited environment.

  3. Trouble and pain awaits any local politician that does not support increased population growth.

    Have you noticed how many of the voters in this region drive utes and make a living as tradespeople ?

    Those tradespeople (not just developers, or the farmers sell off their land rezoned and make zillions) make a living from the new houses that will accommodate the newcomers.

    So if you don’t want a dam to support population growth, when people bang on about economic diversity in this region, it might be time to listen and take them seriously. Otherwise a high proportion of people relying on making a living from building new houses will , surprise surprise, insist that politicians keep releasing land so that they can keep building houses.

    The alternatives ?
    Different forms of employment for people that do not rely on that form of growth (or can at least limit us to the numbers we already have).
    Where is the support for that from the politicians ?
    Short term electoral cycles dont give them the room to think like that – so the community has to force the issue.
    Start by asking the candidates at the upcoming local elections about their proposals for a more diverse economy.

  4. Good luck with revisiting the concept of population growth & getting Macquarie St to stop their development mania! Of course I agree with these ideas but given politics & prevailing mindsets the reality is they’ll remain just ideas & not activated by those who have the power to change. It’s hard not to be depressed about it really, but I am encouraged by community groups such as WATER Northern Rivers, an alliance of citizens and groups who want a suite of modern water options for our region. https://waternorthernrivers.org/ Also I remember how the Tsssis dam was stopped through community actions.

  5. Most developers don’t give a damn about future generations, carrying capacity or quality of life. The well-trodden mantra of ‘growth’ has led us into the current climate change mess, and those in power have nothing to offer but more of the same. As long as the close nexus between developers and politicians is not broken, and for good, this will continue and accelerate the demise of our species. We do need growth, but growth in quality, not quantity. It makes my eyes water with sadness when I see shoe box after shoe box go up on 300sqm lots, roofs almost touches, no eaves at all: stinking hot in summer, freezing cold in winter. Central planning, if done well and done by scientists, architects and independent town planners with sustainability and passive solar design in mind is the only way – even if ‘central planning’ sounds like communist era.

  6. There is a case for the dam, even without population growth – and the strength of that case is unknown when neither proponents or opponents is interested to outline the carbon footprints of the various options over a 100 year timeframe.

    But the need for more water, one way or another, is accentuated by the increasing population – and what a shame the incompetent Greens support it as much as everyone else

  7. I’m voting for Simon (comments mentioned above). We DON’T need a God damn dam, we need limits on population growth , caring for Country (respecting First Nations opinions …this might be possible after 250 yrs ?) watering conservation & recycling systems, actually giving a DAMN about the wildlife that will lose their lives & creating some type of liveable future for the next generation. AUSTRALIA IS THE DRIEST CONTINENT ON EARTH , that’s why 85% OF IT’S POPULATION LIVE ON THE COAST. We have desecrated & raped this wondrous land within an inch of it’s previous life…..do you think we could STOP now ? IF not now… when ? The Gladys style of Govt & it’s corruption and ‘development at any cost’ strategy makes me sick to my stomach. I am now ashamed to be Australian.

  8. given the amount of glyphosate/roundup run-off from the surrounding macca farms, would you really want your kids to be drinking any of that damned water… whats wrong with supplementing water usage, by collecting roof water from every house?


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