The Ballina Shire Council has overturned a controversial water security decision made by the previous council last year in the leadup to local government elections.
Rous County Council, representing several local governments on the Northern Rivers including the Ballina Shire Council (BSC) and responsible for water security, last year offered the BSC $5.5 million for a water treatment plant in Marom Creek, south-west of Ballina and Alstonville.
The debate in council chambers over the potential sale was heated, with several councillors campaigning for re-election at the time.
Regional water security, particularly the idea of a new dam, featured strongly in campaigns.
Councillor Sharon Cadwallader had been calling for more studies to be done on the feasibility of a dam in the hinterland village of Dunoon, an idea the former Rous County Council had explored and ultimately rejected.
Past debates over water security
Cr Cadwallader spoke out passionately against other Rous proposals for addressing a predicted water shortage in the region, including water recycling and groundwater use.
Her position appeared opposite to that of her fellow BSC representative on Rous, former Cr Keith Williams.
When Cr Cadwallader and others on the former BSC voted against transferring ownership of its Marom Creek water treatment plant to Rous, effectively hampering potential Rous plans for groundwater use, Cr Williams wrote a stinging letter to The Echo.
Cr Cadwallader replied with equal passion in the comments, saying she was representing ‘the staggering number of citizens from Alstonville and Wollongbar and the equally unbelievable number of citizens in the rural areas right across the Alstonville Plateau who do not want the Alstonville aquifer touched as a permanent water supply’.
Cr Cadwallader said the response from the community during public consultation ‘could not be clearer’ and she didn’t believe regional groundwater options were ‘a good outcome as a permanent water supply going forward’.
Dunoon Dam back ‘on the table’
But a year later, the independent councillor and elected mayor has changed her mind thanks to agreement from Rous to revisit the Dunoon Dam proposal.
Cr Cadwallader has also become the deputy chair* of Rous since becoming Ballina’s mayor, while former Cr Williams failed to win a seat in his ward.
At December 2022’s ordinary council meeting, Cr Eva Ramsey – who ran on Cr Cadwallader’s ticket last year – was the only one to vote against a revived proposal to sell the Marom Creek plant to Rous.
Cr Jeff Johnson was absent.
Cr Cadwallader referred to ‘a time lag’ in terms of Rous plans for future water security when explaining her change of mind on the Marom Creek plant transfer, saying the Dunoon Dam had been ‘on and off the table’.
An interim measure had to come from groundwater and surface water, the mayor said.
‘Of course, I voted against this initially,’ the mayor said, ‘because at that stage, the Clarence Moreton basin was unsecured’.
Cr Cadwallader said she hadn’t wanted aquifers on the Alstonville plateau touched out of concern for potential impacts on surrounding land users, particularly in dry periods when some had to buy in water.
‘I think everybody would know it’s unsustainable to think you can continue on any aquifer indefinitely,’ Cr Cadwallader said, ‘but as an interim measure, I will now support Rous County Council’s measure to do what they have to do in order to supply water to the region’.
‘Everything has changed now that the Dunoon Dam is back on the table for investigation,’ Cr Cadwallader said.
The council voted to authorise the general manager to negotiate an agreement for the plant transfer to Rous and for the price to be determined as the council’s assessed written down value.
Final terms and conditions of the agreement are to be reported back to the council for approval with further discussion of the transfer deferred until then.
*This article said ‘chair’ when first published. It has been corrected as of 28.12.22 3pm to say ‘deputy chair’.