The Rous County Council has again voted against including a new dam in future water security investigations but new state political pressure suggests the debate is far from over.
Five of the eight local government representatives on the council voted in an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday to adopt and confirm the Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy [IWCM] as earlier resolved in March.
The document outlines four key areas of investigation for future water security on much of the Northern Rivers, with experts predicting demand in the region to outstrip supply in just three years.
The future of the region’s water supply in four corners
Most water supplied to the Byron, Ballina, Richmond Valley and Lismore local government areas comes from the Rocky Creek Dam, under Rous County Council management.
But with a 22% decline in surface water predicted by 2060 at the same time as an expected 37% increase in the population’s demand, the Northern Rivers could run dry unless pressure on the Rocky Creek Dam is mitigated.
The IWCM features four key areas of exploration: connection to the Marom Creek water treatment plant, currently owned by the Ballina Shire Council; groundwater from Tyagarah in the Byron Shire and Alstonville in the Ballina Shire; desalination; and water recycling.
But an earlier version of the council’s Future Water Project 2060 featured a fifth option for investigation: a new dam in the hinterland, not far from the Rocky Creek Dam.
A tale of two petitions
Debate over the dam has been loud, passionate and determined on all aspects, from environmental and cultural heritage concerns to costs, flood risks and water purity.
Protestors against the idea of a new dam could be heard over the live-streamed council meeting as yelling in the background, while most people who spoke during public access were either experts speaking against the dam or community representatives like Richard Tevan from the Our Future Northern Rivers group and Lismore personality Big Rob speaking in favour of the dam option.
The council last year received more than 1,200 submissions on its FWP 2060, mostly opposed to the idea of the Dunoon Dam, and voted in December to remove the option from future considerations.
But once news of the council’s decision spread, a campaign to revive the Dunoon Dam option started and by the time the revised version of the FWPhad finished its exhibition period, the council had received more than 11,000 submissions, this time mostly in support of the dam.
Dunoon Dam divides councils
The council itself is almost evenly divided: the traditionally more conservative Richmond Valley Council representatives further south want to consider a dam (and…