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Byron Shire
April 23, 2024

Missing: evidence that the Dunoon Dam is relevant

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Rous County Council (RCC) is responsible for our region’s future water security. Its lack of transparency, inability to communicate complex concepts with the community and its penchant for misusing/misrepresenting scientific and expert information make it unfit for that purpose.

Two very important milestones for our region’s future water security happened early this year; the NSW Dept of Planning and Environment (DPE) declared in July 2021 that RCC’s Future Water Plan 2060 had been completed (the Dunoon Dam was not included at that stage) and the CSIRO independent review of the Far North Coast Water Strategy was completed. Taken together, they exposed the sham that is the current RCC’s Future Water Plan 2060 (FWP 2060) following the resolution of Agenda Item 12 at its 16 February 2022 meeting that reinstated the Dunoon Dam option. RCC knew both were in the pipeline but waited for neither of them to report. They are examples of RCC’s unfitness.

Updating or dumping?

RCC called the resolution ‘updating’ the FWP 2060. I call it dumping the FWP 2060. Why the difference? Because the RCC’s call concealed that the 16 February resolution was a denial of three foundation principles of the Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) that was formulated by means of the original FWP 2060.

The founding IWCM principles are the context essential for evaluating the FWP 2060, and each element in it, and they should be reproduced with any part of the FWP 2060. In the 16 February resolution these principles were dumped.

They are:

a) That water supply be multi-sourced with as little dependence on rain as possible in a time of climate change. Dams are rain dependent.

b) That existing ecology and cultural/heritage were to be respected. The existing studies had established mutual exclusivity between the dam and respecting significant cultural and ecological heritage.

In practice ‘updated’ meant ‘replaced’. RCC restored the dam to the table. The resolution demanded a ‘fresh’, new study of heritage and ecology on the spurious grounds that the traditional owners would miraculously agree to the destruction of their heritage if they were listened to. The traditional owners were in the audience at that meeting and subsequently vehemently protested that they had been listened to in the first instance.

c) That there be strong evidence for any proposed changes after the FWP 2060’s initial assessment as completed.

Two milestones

The two milestones below show that there was insufficient evidence. 1. The NSW Dept of Planning and Environment (DPE) which signs off on IWCM plans, declared that RCC’s Future Water Plan 2060 had been completed in July 2021 and that the DPE had concurred with it because it satisfied Best Management Practice. The General Manager was notified in March 2022. Nobody else found out before June when I told them.

The approved FWP 2060 did not include the dam.

2. The CSIRO desktop review (Independent Review of the Far North Coast Water Strategy), in response to demands by some Ballina Shire councillors, became public in June 2022. The councillors were seeking expert/scientific support for a push-poll petition that had pressed for the Dunoon Dam investigations to remain in the FWP 2060. The RCC General Manager had recommended that the dam remain because of the poll results.

The CSIRO review did not concur with reinstating the Dunoon Dam.

Events inconvenient for Rous

The conclusions of both milestone events were inconvenient for RCC because they showed that the Dunoon Dam was neither a necessary nor an urgent part of DPE’s concept of Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) as six of the eight RCC councillors who voted for the dam had insisted. All six had made statements in support of their vote that were misleading and misinformed (DPE Water Concurrence p3.

The ‘update’ resolution has now disappeared from public view. Was that because the resolution designed it that way or had the GM interpreted it that way? Item 3 of the 16 February resolution required that the implementation of the dam investigations be deferred until after Stage 3 options, the last stage of the published FWP 2060, have been determined. When the Stage 3 options have been determined it means that they have satisfied the earlier investigations and therefore will have been assessed as together likely to be able to meet future demand until 2060. Signing off on Stage 3 means signing off on the FWP 2060. How then does Item 3 of the resolution make sense even supposing the dam could be shown to be needed? Look on the website and you won’t find mention of the Dunoon Dam in the FWP 2060. You can’t discuss something formally resolved to be in the FWP 2060 that doesn’t exist in the published FWP 2060 (now renamed the Future Water Project 2060).

Whatever the understanding of Item 3, the ‘disappeared’ resolution clearly represents a lack of transparency.

Lacked due process

The GM has overseen procedures that lacked, in my opinion, due process. The RCC Chair shares some of the responsibility. In this context ‘due’ means that every step of the decision-making process be transparent, fair, and ethical.

It seems to me that RCC has a choice. It can honestly review the ill-informed dam decision or it can own the ‘update’. Show on the website where the dam is to be included in the Future Water Project 2060, and how it is justified. Continuing to hide is not an option.

♦ Dr Lyn Walker is a retired academic, was president of the Ballina Environment Society and remains an executive member of the BES. 


Most points can be verifible at: rous.nsw.gov.au

  1. For Councillor statements see Agendas and business papers, 16th Feb 2022 audio – last 25mins on the tape. Item 12. The reinstatement resolution can also be found there. For protests listen to Community forum.
  2. The CSIRO report: Independent Review of the Far North Coast Water Strategy July 2022.

3. The Rous Future Water project 2060. Resources – DPE Water Concurrence (p3). Probably added after the public exposure, certainly after the Reinstatement of the Dam.

  1. The dumped Cultural/heritage study (CHIA) 2013 is listed under Resources. The dumped ecological study is nowhere to be found on the Project (Plan) pages.

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  1. Haven’t heard any update on the Alstonville bores Rous is constructing. Have they worked out the project will likely cost closer to $100m than $30m, and the bore is unlikely to provide the flow of water Rous has claimed they will get.

  2. Thanks Lyn for such a thorough explanation and update.
    Transparency is so important right now, surely Rous County Council can’t get away with it!?
    They can’t ignore the 2022 reviews from the NSW Dept of Planning and Environment and CSIRO and get away with it!
    Can they?!

  3. Good article, shame about the evidence denying dinosaurs now on the rcc board. The problem with the Alstonville bore, which is to use a deeper aquifer, is that the other bore users are very reluctant to be metered and to bring to light their overextraction of water from the current aquifer.

  4. Dr Walker spruikes that new dams in our expanding residential region are not necessary and selectively quotes the RCC and CSIRO to support her stance. Very clever with contorted reasoning and selective quotes etc.
    So I guess Dr Walker also fully agrees with the popularist notions of Tim Flannery and Primer Dan Andrews, IE – “that we are never going to get enough rainfall in future to fill the dams anyway – so why build them in the first place !”
    And all the while in 2022 trillions of cubic meters of potable water go down our rivers and out to waste in the ocean.
    Bores take away water from our vital creeks and if persued will continue to make our rivers cesspits and devoid of proper ecology and fish.
    De-salination is un-reliable, expensive and only ever partially used with huge “moth-ball” maintenance costs when idle.
    I feel Dr Walker’ flawed analysis makes perfect sense – but only to the ‘de rigeur’ eco-protesters and the nearby NIMBY land-owners .

    • Rob L, the evidence continues to accumulate around the world that the fastest and cheapest way to obtain the largest volume of water to meet the supply/demand balance is through effective water efficiencies. This is no longer under debate and we do not need to invest in expensive infrastructure if we get serious about water efficiencies.

      In addition, water efficiencies don’t destroy assets that we all profess to value, like our combined Indigenous and European cultural heritage, and endangered ecosystems, and koalas and platypus,

      Plus it is the best way to meet the climate change challenges ahead of us.

      Frankly, I can’t understand why the Rous councillors are not clamouring to find out more about this. What is there to lose if they did do some investigation?

      The water efficiencies proposed by Rous in its Regional Demand Management Plan 2023-26 sounded great but on examination, like all motherhood statements, they were not backed up by genuine intent.

      The problem is that Rous is not interested in minimising water use – it would lose too much money if it did. That is why Rous is no longer fit for purpose and the region needs a new water authority.

      • Quote ‘The problem is that Rous is not interested in minimising water use.’
        Nan – I think you will find they have made considerable efforts in controlling water use in the past and present.

    • So you mean Dr Walker formulates a logical argument by quoting from EXPERTS who actually know stuff?
      Of course she should have asked the local expert whinger down the road.
      And of course informed water policy and publicly-funded infrastructure would be better if they were formulated five to ten decades ago without any expert input or the guidance of modern technology, better still if they were just based on fakebook posts by rednecks who just make sh*t up

      • If you find an “eco-expert” that is completely impartial nowadays – please let me know Nat.
        [I’ll ‘take me ‘at off to ’em !]

  5. So Rob where is your evidence? Come on quote it. Or better still read the documents that I reference. Claiming selectivity against me but having no evidence – you wouldn’t be one of the RCC six in disguise would you?
    Desalination. Try the web. there you will find out that there are 18,000 plants active in the world, 30 in Australia. Perth and Adelaide can’t survive without them. Western Sydney kept in drinking water during its floods. Dubai one of the worlds largest air transport interchanges and a huge modern city runs on desal plants. Darwin is the only capital city without one. Futures plan to have one if necessary, sort of last resort. Last resorts are important and they always sit until needed. Desal is still there in the futures Plan so whoever you are supporting hasn’t tried to remove it.
    Climate change predictions are that we cannot rely on past experience – there will be stronger and longer floods and droughts – get it Rob FLOODS too longer and stronger . Australia’s history of dams in big floods is poor by the way – check Wivenhoe near Brisbane.
    Throw mud if you like but Id sooner that you throw evidence; there was none in your blurb. there was plenty of attacking the person though
    By the way no accuracy of quote either. I say a particular dam, as in singular.
    Attack with evidence Rob, not slurs on people – that is the lowest form of reply. Sadly, one used even today by an RCC councillor who otherwise had nothing.

  6. No slurs Lyn, just trying to get some common-sense debate into an important matter that affects all us ratepayers.
    But if the cap fits….


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