Tuesday, 9 November 2021

NSW National Party - determined as ever to ignore the rights of traditional owners and vulnerable biodiverse landscapes - are investigating dam & diversion options in northern coastal river catchments

Rous County Council - which has bulk water supply responsibilities across the Ballina, Byron, Lismore City and Richmond Valley local government areas - in a 5 to 3 vote put aside the 253ha Dunoon Dam proposal for the next four to five years to enable comprehensive talks to occur with Widjabul Wia-bal traditional owners before going back into the plan.

Instead, it is exploring groundwater and recycling options with the aim of securing water supplies by 2024-2030.

However, there are objections to this course of action within the county council and in the broader community, along with disturbing echoes of colonial racism.

Section of the Channon Gorge, the proposed site of the Dunoon Dam wall
IMAGE: David Lowe

The proposed Dunoon Dam would be the second dam in the Rocky Creek sub-catchment, which if it becomes the preferred option would leave only approx. 4 kms as the crow flies between these two bodies of stored water.

North Coast Voices readers will probably not be surprised to find that NSW Nationals MLA for Clarence, former property developer & mining consultant Chris Gulaptis, the Nationals  MLC for Bathurst small business owner & recent undeclared candidate for Leader of the Nationals Sam Farraway and, Nationals candidate for the Lismore electorate in the last state election Austin Curtain, all support inundating a river valley to build this dam and including this proposal in the long-term regional water strategy.

The Echo, Letters, 3 November 2021:

If councillors in favour of the Dunoon Dam (DuD) are elected in December we will see several things happen.

Water resilience will collapse. The ‘10,000 signatures’, on which the pro-dam candidates base their political stance, demanded that all options be taken off the table, except for a second dam on a small creek: being completely dependent on increasingly erratic rainfall flowing through that small creek would intensify our climate risk.

Water shortages would be incurred soon because demand exceeds supply in three years, but the dam could not possibly be built until at least 2030.

Local jobs, which would have been boosted by diverse water options and long-term conservation measures (eg large-scale refitting), would be axed in favour of a short-term boost to a huge non-local company to build a dam.

Water rates would escalate rapidly to pay for a large one-off project. Government contributions are unlikely, leaving current ratepayers to foot the bill. The poorest people would be paying the most because water is non-discretionary, like food.

The Widjabul Wia-Bal people would be told, yet again, that their opinion does not matter. The burial sites, which have been compared by the Native Title Services Corp to the Juukan Cave in WA, would be lost. The living heritage of our own citizens would be discarded.

The Endangered Ecological Community of Lowland Rainforest, part of the remaining one per cent of the Big Scrub, would be severely reduced. In The Channon Gorge, the rare warm temperate rainforest on sandstone would be almost completely destroyed.

Opposition to the DuD, including direct action, would escalate, causing increased social division and unrest. When a large dubious project lacks social licence, the outcomes for local politicians pushing the project are never good.

There are plenty of alternatives to the DuD but the pro-dam candidates are going for the least efficient, most expensive, slowest, and most reckless option for water in the future.

We can have more water more cheaply and more quickly without needing a dam or groundwater; just by water efficiencies alone. But the pro-dam ideologues are not interested.

We have a problem here with local would-be politicians who want to capitalise on anxiety about water in order to score political points. They are not genuinely interested in water security. This is easily proved by their refusal to discuss anything other than one unrealistic and unsafe option.

There is a terrific opportunity here to pull together to solve our water problems. It may be lost owing to the political ambitions of a few cynical dog-whistlers.

Nan Nicholson, The Channon

ABC News, 4 October 2021:

Australia's national science agency is to investigate how to best manage the NSW far north coast's long-term water supply and river health.

The state's Water Minister, Melinda Pavey, has announced that scientists from the CSIRO will provide independent advice reviewing options proposed in last year's draft Far North Coast Regional Water Strategy.

"It developed from a lot of conversations around the strategy and a view from some community members that we haven't dealt enough with issues in relation to flood mitigation and water quality on north coast rivers, as well as long-term future supply for an area with a strong population and a lot of rainfall," Ms Pavey said.

The review will look at water security and flood risk management, particularly for the flood-prone city of Lismore.

"This will be really important foundational work that could be relevant to other parts of NSW," she said

Keith Williams, chair of regional water supplier Rous County Council, has welcomed the study and believes it will dovetail with council's existing priorities outlined in the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative.

"About what we can do to decrease downstream flooding and a lot of that involves trying to re-establish wetlands, replanting river banks that exclude stock, and generally slowing water down within the landscape," he said.

"To have the CSIRO helping with that work would be fantastic. I don't see any threat to Rous from further scientific studies; we would welcome it."

Study will include Dunoon Dam option

Ms Pavey confirmed that a new dam at Dunoon would be included in the study.

A majority of Rous County councillors voted earlier this year to shelve the dam option from its future water strategy.

Robert Mustow, who was one of three councillors who advocated for the dam option to remain in the mix, welcomed the CSIRO input….

"This study will now reveal everything and it will be scientific-based and that's how it should have been to start with."

The CSIRO work is expected to be completed within a year.

What Minister Pavey is careful not to mention is that this 'review' is likely to be used to bolster the NSW Perrottet Government's preference to increase the size of the Shannon Creek Dam in the Clarence River catchment area [Draft North Coast Regional Water Strategy, "Long List of Options", March 2021] in order to allow the Coffs Harbour City LGA to increase its water draw from the Nymboida River and this large side dam (these being Coffs Harbour's only source of urban water) AND at the same time allow yet another local government area outside the catchment area to draw water via the Shannon Creek Dam. Thereby placing an unsustainable water draw of the Nymboida sub-catchment for a combined est. resident population of 142,519 persons [ID Community Demographic Resources, 2020].


EchoNetDaily, 14 December 2020:

Widjabul Wia-bal traditional owners of the area between Dunoon and the Channon have told Rous County Council not to follow Rio Tinto with the destructive Dunoon Dam.

They have told the General Manager of Rous County Council, Phil Rudd, that they will not accept the building of the proposed dam, which would inundate ancient burial sites and extensive evidence of occupation in the past and in recent times.

John Roberts, a Senior Elder of the Widjabul Wia-bal said, ‘I was one of the stakeholders consulted in 2011 about the impact of the Dunoon Dam on cultural heritage.

In the 2011 Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment prepared for Rous, we stakeholders said with one voice that no level of disturbance was acceptable to us. We still say that. Nothing has changed. There is no need for another study. Our opinion has not changed.

Our cultural heritage is a direct connection to our ancestors. We have been here for thousands of years. These sites provide us with a link to our traditions, our land and our living heritage. They allow us to educate our young ones in their history.’....

Echo, 22 July 2021:

Proposed Dunoon Dam, now scrapped. Rous County Council.

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 also want to connect Casino up to the Rous County Council water supply) while Byron’s representatives in the north are publicly opposed to the dam and Lismore’s progressives have cited concerns over cultural heritage.

Ballina is less cohesively represented in the Rous County Council, with each of the shire’s two representatives taking opposing sides on the dam idea....

The Daily Telegraph, 4 August 2021, p.11:

Lismore Mayor Vanessa Ekins said lobbying the NSW and federal governments to force the Dunoon Dam back into Rous’s Water Future Strategy was a political manoeuvre by conservative councillors and MPs ahead of upcoming elections.

I think there is a bit of local lobbying going on, people are gearing up for an election and trying to position themselves with a little project,” Ms Ekins (pictured) said.

(The dam) doesn’t relate to the science, technical expertise and decades of thought and work that has gone into coming out with the Future Water Strategy…..

SMEC Australia Pty Ltd, Dunoon Dam Terrestrial Ecology Impact Assessment*, November 2011:

One endangered ecological community (EEC), Lowland Rainforest which is listed under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act), was recorded during field investigations. In addition, nine flora and 17 fauna species (including one frog, one mammal, one fruit-bat, six microbats and eight birds) listed as threatened in NSW under the TSC Act were also recorded. Of these species, eight flora and one fauna species are also listed nationally under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). An additional seven fauna species listed as migratory or marine under the EPBC Act as well as two Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (RoTAP) and three regionally significant plant species were also recorded.


* SMEC, a member of the Surbana Jurong Group, is a global engineering, management and development consultancy. SMEC field studies were undertaken in April 2010 - October 2010 and targeted threatened species within the study area.