Looking at Lismore’s never-ending issue of water – not enough or too much – there was yet another vote about its future on Tuesday evening.
Councillor Big Rob gave notice of intention to move that Council: provide a letter of support to Rous County Council (RCC) regarding the Future Water Project 2060, recognising its role in the region’s recovery and resilience building, and; seek out and apply for any available funding options to ensure the Future Water Project 2060 is delivered successfully as part of the region’s recovery and resilience building.
Cr Rob’s comments were that: a letter of support from Lismore City Council can be used by Rous County Council as part of ongoing funding and other project representations and that the Future Water Project 2060 is more than a water security project. It is a key component of the region’s economic recovery.
Representing Water Northern Rivers, Hugh Nicholson spoke to councillors during public access.
‘Lismore City Council should not support Rous County Council’s Future Water Project that now includes further investigations into the Dunoon Dam (the DuD).
Mr Nicholson spoke to The Echo after the meeting and put his case forward.
Disrespect of the Widjabul Wia-bal
Mr Nicholson said that both Lismore City Council and Rous County Council claim at the beginning of each meeting that they deeply respect the local Indigenous people, the Widjabul Wia-bal.
‘However, by agreeing to put the DuD back on the table they are blatantly ignoring the express wishes of the Widjabul Wia-bal and their repeated strong statements over many years opposing any damage to their sacred burial sites and other places within the dam footprint.
‘I understand that the unredacted version of the Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment (CHIA) is now to be made available to Rous councillors.
‘It is scandalous that highly confidential information that was revealed by the Widjabul Wia-bal in good faith should be handed over to uncaring and even hostile people. However, it should at least finally put paid to the numerous statements made – by people in this room – which tried to cast doubt on the importance of the area to the Widjabul Wia-bal, and even questioned the existence of the sites.’
Mr Nicholson said that in releasing the 2011 CHIA, Rous committed to ongoing consultation with the Widjabul Wia-bal on a six-monthly basis.
‘This has not happened,’ he said. ‘Rous made no objection to the DuD being brought back onto the table at the first meeting this year before the newly elected councillors had received any briefings about the important issues at stake, particularly as regards the Widjabul Wia-bal.
‘Did anyone ask the Widjabul Wia-bal what they thought about that? Have any of you spoken to any Widjabul Wia-bal about this?
‘Rous’ contempt could not be more obvious and Lismore City Council by association, will be displaying its disregard of its Indigenous citizens by adopting this motion of support.
‘How can Lismore City Council expect respect from the Indigenous community if it supports such gross disrespect?’
What is the hurry?
Mr Nicholson said that last year a request was made by pro-dam advocates that the CSIRO should conduct an enquiry into the water issues at stake in the Northern Rivers.
‘This desktop review was completed by CSIRO scientist Dr Neil Lazarow in Dec 2021. He submitted the final version in February 2022. This has still not been released by DPIE. Neither has the Far North Coast Water Strategy, which deals in detail with the numerous options concerning water supply and management.
‘The CSIRO review was the subject of demands that nothing should proceed without it but now it is being ignored by the same people who pushed for it.
‘Surely before any pre-emptive statements are made in support of Rous, these two important documents should be examined. DPIE expects them to be released together in the next few weeks. These documents may oppose Rous’ plans in some areas, for example, the DuD, and Lismore City Council will look hasty and uninformed if it leaps to support measures which have been rejected by state and federal government investigations.’
Alternatives have been ignored by Rous and LCC
Mr Nicholson said that the overriding of the wishes of the Widjabul Wia-bal has been in part justified by claims that the community’s needs for water must take precedence over cultural claims, and for that matter, environmental values as well.
‘However, detailed plans by Professor Stuart White, of Uni of Technology Sydney have been provided on several occasions to both Rous and to the constituent LGAs setting out how the most water can be obtained the most cheaply and the most rapidly by broad-scale and well-funded water efficiencies.
‘It could also be added that these measures would also be the least controversial because, according to Prof. White, the need for a new dam or the use of groundwater could be pushed out indefinitely.
‘Rous has consistently neglected to take up his offer to at least trial his suggestions for one year.
‘Lismore City Council should not support Rous in its refusal to explore the easiest way to obtain secure water for the community while (a) preserving irreplaceable assets like Indigenous cultural heritage, and (b) endeavouring to cause the least social division.’
Mr Nicholson said it almost seems that Rous, and now some people in Lismore City Council, are looking for ways to cause the most social division.
‘If Lismore City Council is to heal its severely damaged relationship with its Indigenous citizens, it will not support Rous while Rous continues to repudiate the Widjabul Wia-bal and their precious land at the dam site.
Widjabul Wia-bal do not want more studies
‘It is not good enough to say that “we just want more studies”. The Widjabul Wia-bal have said that they do not want more studies. They revealed sacred information and it has been trampled on. The senior knowledge holder, Uncle John Roberts, who is gravely ill in hospital as we speak, has said repeatedly “No Dam and No More Studies”.
‘Surely Lismore City Council can show some spine and stick up for its Indigenous people, especially since the need for the DuD has never been established.’
Mr Nicholson said that for a council concerned with saving money and delivering reliable water while protecting its First Nations people, its first duty is to reject unthinking support for Rous County Council.
‘Lismore City Council should not support this ill-advised and premature motion,’ he said.
Debating an amendment
Cr Darlene Cook was first to speak during the debate saying she wanted to propose an amendment. ‘It adds the points that you’re supporting the Rous County Council to develop a diversified portfolio of water supply options to ensure real water security for the future.
‘That is part of a motion that was passed by this council last April, and it’s about getting us councillors on board as to what we can do in Lismore to investigate ways of holding our water losses and educating our people.’
Cr Cook that although a motion supporting the future water strategy was passed last year, with encouragement for Rous to speedily implement the identified recommendations, Council, apparently, had to do it again this year.
‘I’m sure Rous is working hard to get the first projects underway at Marom Creek and the Clarence-Morteon Basin bore.
‘I’m sure you are all aware I was a strong voice against including the Dunoon Dam in the future water strategy. However, the decision has been made by Rous at the meeting in February to include it again. So I’m not going to fight that battle again tonight.
‘I will wait to see the results of the CSIRO study which many others committed to do, before moving any further on the Dunoon Dam project – I am willing to wait for that report.
Genuine consultations with the Widjabul Wia-bal
‘I’m also willing to wait for the results of the genuine consultations with the Widjabul Wia-bal elders which they have requested since 2013 and which NTS Corp have written to Rous, and said “before you make any decisions on the Dunoon Dam, please engage in genuine consultations with the relevant traditional owners”. So I’m waiting for those processes to go forward before I’ll comment any further on the Dunoon project,’ said Cr Cook.
‘What I want to see is Lismore contributing towards water conservation, water-use education and reducing our own losses as our part of contributing to the water strategy.
‘Councillors, I don’t know if you’re aware, but we lose between 16 and 18 per cent of the water we buy from Rous each year. An enormous amount of water. It’s millions of dollars and millions of litres that vanish from our system – that we cannot bill out to anyone – we don’t know where it goes. We don’t know if it’s stolen. We don’t know if we have faulty meters. We don’t know if we have undetected leaks.
‘Council noted the high costs we are charged for bulk water and our community compliance about the costs that Lismore charges for his water, but we do nothing to reduce our water losses. Almost a fifth of the water we pay for we can’t bill out.’
Cr Cook noted that Ballina and Byron are preparing to roll out smart meters and purple pipe technology in all new housing estates. ‘This is recycled treated water for gardens, toilets and laundry, but Lismore refuses to consider this. I know it’s an expensive option but Lismore has refused to consider it even for North Lismore Plateau. There are a lot of things we could do, councillors. We could increase the size of water tanks required. There are lots of options.
‘I’d like to explore this. I’d like to explore this with workshops. And I’d like these ideas brought forward. Maybe we can implement some ways that we can contribute to the future water strategy, and not wasting our precious water. Value every drop of water. We have to Mr Mayor, because they are precious.’
Big Rob doesn’t get ‘real’
Cr Big Rob asked that Councillor Cook take out the word ‘real’ from her amendment because it implied that there’s no real water security options in the current plan.
Cr Cook said she was quoting from the motion that was passed in April last year with the word ‘real’ included. Cr Big Rob said if that were the case, he would speak against the amendment.
More time was wasted and Cr Cook agreed to remove the word ‘real’.
She then uttered something under her breath while the mic was still on and Cr Big Rob raised a Point of Order saying he was offended and wanted an apology. Yet more time was wasted while this was discussed and the Mayor told Cr Cook her actions were childish.
Things dragged on.
Cr Big Rob said later in the debate that he had been misrepresented by Cr Cook in certain turns of phrase. ‘I’ve never said toilet to tap and I certainly don’t say toilet to toilet. I say toilet water. And I won’t drink toilet water because I think it’s disgusting. I’d rather drink bottled water or leave the area.’
No one objected.
Gordon says ‘enough’
After Councillors Gordon, Ekins and Guise spoke, Cr Gordon seemed to think that was enough. ‘We’ve had the required speakers for and against. I’d ask that the amendment now be put,’ he said.
Mayor Krieg said there had only had one against.
Cr Elly Bird obliged and spoke against the proposed amendment. ‘I appreciate the intentions of the amendment which is to support the progression of a diversified portfolio of water supply to continue to progress the options that have been outlined in the various iterations of the future water project 2060, but, unfortunately, it is political.
‘Whilst there is the inclusion of the Dunoon Dam in the current future water projects 2060, I can’t support the motion as it’s been put forward today. Mr Nicholson who spoke earlier outlined very clearly the reasons that I don’t support this motion.’
‘It’s been fundamentally rejected by the Widjabul Wia-bal people of this area,’ said Cr Bird. ‘The CHIA report that is about to be released or that many people have already seen, has clearly identified sacred sites in that area. It’s been shown clearly that there are options – we’ve spoken this evening about water wastage and that we can actually secure water supply by improving efficiencies, which is the great ignored solution. I think there is [an idea that] a magic fix – the Dunoon Dam – will provide the water security for our population going forward.
‘The CSIRO report is coming to Rous County Council. I don’t support it because of all those reasons, it’s the Dunoon Dam wrapped up in a strategy and I don’t support the Dunoon Dam.’
Cr Big Rob spoke for the amended motion then Cr Krieg took a vote.
Cr Cook’s amendment was passed and became the motion which was also passed, with Councillors Colby, Hall, Jensen, Rob, Gordon, Cook, Bing and Krieg voting for, and Councillors Ekins, Guise and Bird opposed.
After the meeting, Hugh Nicholson said it was very disappointing that both Lismore City Council and Rous County Council are on the one hand prepared to quote platitudes about valuing our First Nations people and their ancient culture, and on the other hand are so ready to sweep them aside.
‘This attitude will come back to haunt both Lismore City Council and Rous County Council as resistance mounts to the proposed destruction of priceless sites that belong to all of us,’ he said.
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