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Byron Shire
July 23, 2024

A deeper dive into plans to abandon Mullum’s local water supply

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With Council seeking community input on its proposal to disconnect Mullumbimby’s local water source and instead be reliant on water supplied by Rous County Council, local Greens candidate and water engineer, Elia Hauge, has added her concerns around the lack of meaningful consultation and process.

As reported last week in The Echo by water and sanitation engineer, Ben Fawcett, the significant decision will come before councillors on August 15, prior to caretaker mode for the September 14 elections. 

Staff’s preference is to disconnect the local supply at Lavertys Gap in Wilsons Creek, which has served the town since 1939.

While consultant reports underpin staff’s view, when it comes to cost estimates, Fawcett and Cr Dey claim that the consultants have not provided enough detail to make an informed decision. 

Cr Dey said, ‘The real value is in the robustness of a locally-operated supply, with a back-up already connected to Rous. Another aspect not yet considered is whether Lavertys Gap could also supply Brunswick Heads’.

Staff replied on the costings, ‘The ongoing cost of connection to the regional supply over 30 years is less than half the cost of using a local supply with off-stream storage [reservoir]. The Net Present Value (NPV) analysis calculates capital and operating costs of each scenario over 30 years in present-day dollar terms. The NPV of connection to the regional supply (Scenario 3) is estimated at $13.748 million, while for off-stream storage (Scenario 2) it is estimated at $29.538 million’.

Yet Mr Fawcett says that page 165 of the consultant report states, ‘The ongoing costs of a regional supply are higher than the local scenarios.’ 

‘The future costs of Rous bulk water are not guaranteed’, he says. 

Cr Dey maintains WSAC members are sceptical of relying on the consultant’s views. ‘The analysis was not done by the community, it was the thoughts of the consultant’.

Ms Hauge told The Echo that the report that Council is presenting to the public ‘has been prepared by a consulting firm that also does work for Rous Water’.

‘The consultant analysis is supposedly based on factors including community acceptance and environmental protection.

‘This makes no sense at all, because you haven’t been asked about it before now – how does [Council] know your level of acceptance?’

She asks: ‘Is presenting a consultant’s report and asking the community to fill in a survey really a meaningful way [for Council] to engage on this important issue?’

Ms Hauge suggests ‘the gold standard’ of a citizens’ assembly, where a community member panel learns about the issues, hears from experts, and then makes recommendations to Council.

‘While some water system decisions are technical engineering decisions – like what size a pipe should be, or how to design a treatment plant – big decisions about where our water comes from are about our values. That’s why it’s so important that major decisions are led by our community’, Ms Hauge says.

‘Despite the fact that Council has known for years that something needs to be done about Mullum’s water supply, this is the first time you have been asked about it’, she adds.

A community meeting will be held on Monday, June 17 from 7pm at the Mullum RSL. You can find the submission guide and more information at waternorthernrivers.org.

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  1. Given recent revelations about ‘consultants’ and how they’ve been rorting governments state and federal, I’d be more than a little leery of the recommendations, especially when that consulting firm also advises Rous County Council.

    Conflict of interest, anyone?

  2. The public would be advised to make sure that all Rous headworks charges are collected and forwarded to Rous. For example, in 2012 Rous revised the number of connections in the constituent councils up by 1771. At a headworks charge of $10,000 each, this should have resulted in Rous receiving an additional $17,710,000, but apparently no funds were received. Whether the developers paid the levies and they weren’t forwarded to Rous, or the developers weren’t charged the levies is unclear, but it seems very sloppy that such a large amount of money could fall into a black hole.

    Rous stopped reporting the number of connections they have a few years ago so it is unclear if they are still sloppy in their bookkeeping, but you would hope someone cares enough to make sure all required headworks charges are paid.

  3. It appears that a substantial amount of money has gone missing, warranting a thorough investigation by a commission to ascertain the facts and determine the appropriate course of action.

  4. The other “elephant in the room”, nobody seems to be talking about, is Fluoride! Rous (to the best of my knowledge) adds it to the drinking water, Mullumbimby not!
    Do we really want to be forced to consume this poison? It’s nothing but an industrial waste product from aluminium production, for which the smelters have found a “clever marketing ploy”.

    • Byron Bay’s water is supplied by Rous but is not fluoridated after a BSC decision in 2005 and reaffirmed in 2013.

      At the time the ABC reported:
      “ A senior scientist from the Department of Health and a local dentist were heckled as they spoke in favour of the process as a way of improving dental health.

      “ Dr Brendan White told the meeting rates of childhood tooth decay in the region are among the worst in the state and local children can wait up to 12 months for dental surgery in a public hospital.

      ” ‘We have one of the highest rates of decay in children under the age of five, we have one of the highest rates of hospital admissions and our community has real trouble accessing care for these suffering children,’ Dr White said.”


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