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Byron Shire
January 19, 2022

Rous County Council Crs Cadwallader and Williams at loggerheads over Dunoon Dam

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The Channon Gorge, the proposed site of the Dunoon Dam. Photo supplied

The Council elections are coming in December and the issue of water security has become a key issue for Ballina Shire Councillors as Mayoral candidates Cr Sharon Cadwallader and Cr Keith Williams.

Both Ballina councillors are representatives on the Rous County Council (RCC), with Cr Williams the Chair of RCC, which is responsible for water security for the four local government areas (LGA) of Ballina, Richmond Valley, Lismore and Byron.

There is water security for the region until 2024, however, the predicted population increase in the four LGAs requires an increase of water supply from 2024. One solution that had been worked on was the building of a second dam below the current Rocky Creek Dam. Issues around the destruction of local Widjabal indigenous burial grounds and areas of cultural significance, the drowning of ‘subtropical rainforest growing on sandstone– which is very unusual’ as well as concerns regarding the expense and viability of a second dam on the same water course as the existing Rocky Creek Dam. These issues led to the rejection of the Dunoon Dam in favour of a multifaceted approach to water security including accessing the Alstonville aquifer.

However, last weeks vote by Ballina Shire Councillors not to sell the Marom Creek Water Treatment Plant to RCC drew a scathing response from Cr Williams who said that the decision was based on  ‘100 per cent petty politics’.

‘The decision by Ballina Shire Council not to sell the Marom Creek Water Treatment Plant to RCC will cost Ballina ratepayers more than $600 per household and an additional $200 per household across the region,’ he claimed.

Ballina Shire Councillor Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

Responding to his accusations Cr Cadwallader, who has been spearheading the campaign to pursue the Dunoon Dam, told The Echo that ‘The reality for the community is these costs are just the beginning of Keith Williams, Cr Cate Coorey (Byron Council), Basil Cameron (Byron Council), Vanessa Ekins (Lismore Council), and Darlene Cook’s (Lismore Council) plans that are going to cost the regional community hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars more than the alternatives’.

‘What Keith Williams is now saying is breath taking, but predictable, attempting to portray himself to be the victim of politically motivated scenarios at every opportunity going forward. The irony of course starts with the party-political directives that he and the other Rous County Councillors have taken when they voted to remove the dam from the list of options. A No Dam policy is their party politics,’ she said.

A typical geological cross section of the Casino, Lismore and Alstonville area.

No dam will cost

‘Now that the first consequences of their actions are starting to appear suddenly Keith Williams is anxious about costs when up until now it was never once part of his considerations: ground water from aquifers cost double that of the dam supply; desalination two and a half times; and recycled sewerage water at least three times the cost,’ she claimed.

‘There is a very, very long list of issues that go with those solutions that were ignored by the Councillors from Byron, Lismore, and Keith Williams in their decision-making process.

‘Recently retired Byron Mayor and Rous Councillor Simon Richardson approached the issue to remove the dam from the options in the December 2020 Rous meeting stating on the public record “sometimes I feel like we are burning the bridges behind us so there is no retreat (to the Dam option)..”’

Rous County Council Chair and Ballina Councillor Keith Williams. Photo David Lowe.


Responding to these claims Cr Williams said that ‘Cr Cadwallader’s argument lacks facts and is misleading. A dam at Dunoon could not possibly be built before 2030, even if we ignore the significant Indigenous cultural heritage issues at the site, as Cr Cadwallader is wont to do.

‘Due to current rapid population growth additional water supply is needed in 2024,’ he told The Echo.

‘Because of the RCC decision in 2014 to prioritise groundwater and the long lead times for such projects, removing existing bores from the shallow Alstonville aquifer and replacing them with bores deep in the Clarence-Moreton Basin is the best option.

‘The Councillor’s reference to Cr Richardson and Rous Councillors “burning the bridges” is deliberately misleading, as the RCC decision specifically retains the land at the Dunoon site until after the next review of Future Water Plan, while genuine consultation and negotiation takes place with the Traditional Custodians.

‘Cr Cadwallader’s use of whole of life costs is great for people in 2065 but ignores the immediate price impacts on current consumers. A dam is clearly the most expensive option in the short term and will require substantial increases in water charges to fund its construction. That’s the reality.

‘Her decision at Ballina Council will cost every Ballina ratepayer and the whole region for what amounts to a childish tantrum.’

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  1. Yes, Ross; nutty plans based on assumed perpetual growth are absurd. Fortunately there’s starting to be much more of a national conversation about this, better late than never.

    I was going to go deeper, but the comments on the ‘population increase’ article linked to in the above text cover that aspect and alternatives pretty well.

    Except … what’s happened to our communities that an abomination like a Channon Gorge dam could even be considered without a sharp, prompt reminder that local rural people will defend their communities to the point of longrunning blockades, for example by the rainforest campaigns of the ’70s and ’80s – also close to The Channon, Nimbin and surrounding areas it should be noted – and stopping the Northern Rivers CSG mining industry at Bentley, the latter with committed support of thousands of people, including many from the coastal communities.

    Let’s not wait for an unfavourable announcement before laying some cards on the table … such insanity will be met by active and effective resistance.

  2. Holy crap Cr Cadwallader DROP the Dunoon Dam proposal & respect the wishes of local First Nation people , that have repeatedly stated their objections at Lismore Council meetings. DAMMING CRITICAL HABITAT/ FLOODING REMNANT RAINFOREST & THE HOMES OF WILDLIFE IS SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE. We in the community that love & respect this region will not shut up nor will we give up against the Nats continual Ecocide. Good on you Cr Keith Williams for your passion & ethics for your community, this does not go unnoticed. KEEP PUSHING BACK & continue to argue for a sane approach for integrated progressive approaches for state of the art techniques for water recycling . Hopefully Cr Williams WILL become Mayor of Ballina, as it sure needs a new enlightened /environmentally literate & caring Mayor.

  3. Unlikely Cadwallader will drop the issue as she has found an issue she has decided she will make controversial with her spin and propaganda, so that she can appear to be the champion of her completely fabricated situation. Its purely an election campaign based on you can fool electors if you repeatedly tell them fabricated stories and frighten them with statements like “toilet to tap”. Just on her failure to pursue the spirit of ROUS’s Adopted Aboriginal consultation commitment, she should be sacked from the ROUS Committee, and frankly should be faced with a a Formal complaint of a Breach of the Equal Rights and Opportunities legislation with regard to her callous disregard of the cultural and grave site heritage of the local mob


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