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Dunoon Dam is back on the table

The Lismore App

Kate Coxall

16 February 2022, 5:53 AM

Dunoon Dam is back on the table

The Dunoon Dam is back on the table for Rous County Council (RCC) as one of the options for the Regional Water Solutions Report following today's first RCC meeting.


The last few years have seen the RCC council with a majority of anti-dam councillors who were looking at other water diversification strategies like aquifers, recycled water and desalination plants to sustain us for the next 80 years. Following the December local government elections, the balanced has changed with the majority of councillors now pro-Dunoon Dam. They want the Dunoon Dam included in the water supply options as well as the alternatives so the best decision is made from all available options.


Our RCC councillors for the next term are Lismore's - Andrew Gordon and Big Rob, Ballina's - Sharon Cadwallader and Rod Bruem, Byron's - Sarah Ndiaye and Michael Lyon and Richmond Valley's Robert Mustow and Sandra Humphries.


On the agenda at the first meeting for 2022 were issues such as weeds, repairs to existing water infrastructure including repair works and fluoridation but the critical issue being discussed and voted on was Councillor (CR) Big Rob's motion to put the Dunoon Dam back on the table for consideration in the RCC's Regional Water Solutions Report, due in 2024.


Cr Rob closed today's motion discussion, by clarifying his view's on the matter saying that there was incomplete consideration of the Dam as an option, with a 2013 cultural report still incomplete, reiterating that RCC should "get the traditional owners heavily involved to "get it right", and that this "may take two years to do" but is important to undertake. Cr Rob believes there is already an allocation of funds remaining for archaeological exploration and a report that has been costed and should be done in relation to the Widjabul Wia-bal Sacred Sites.


Cr Rob said decreasing water usage, plugging leaks and tanks should all be included in this discussion and that currently there had not been an extensive environmental report done, but that he believed that "6 Koalas have been sighted” and that "we need to know if there are more animals out there" after the cultural reports are completed if it was decided to go ahead.


The aim of the Future Water Plan for RCC is to have a decision based on the regions water security by 2024, and Cr Ndaiye did ask whether this would hold this back. The answer was unclear, but Cr Cadwallader said “We should have had all options on the table to start with, and we need to work together for the best outcomes for our community and the majority of the community were very upset that all options were not left on the table. Let’s move forward with Unity".


RCC staff reiterated that while projects come and go, reconciliation with traditional owners was a long-term priority and one they are very committed to.


The motion was easily passed 6/2 with Crs Gordon, Rob, Cadwallader, Bruem, Mustow and Humphries voting for the motion and Crs Ndaiye and Lyon against.


Before today's RCC meeting there was a protest on the steps of RCC in Molesworth Street by various groups in the community, in favour of diverse water options and opposing Dunoon Dam. Speakers at the event included Skye Roberts, Widjabul Wia-bul woman, Terrie Nicholson from Water Northern Rivers Alliance and Nan Nicholson on the 3 previous occasions the Dam has been rejected as an option previously, as well as Dr Ros Irwin from Friends of the Koala.



Skye spoke about her people, Elders and those emerging, being united against the Dunoon Dam due to the Sacred Women's and Men's sites and their significance.


Terrie and Nan spoke of this significance being akin to the Juukan Caves in Western Australia that Rio Tinto was reportedly destroying. The Water Northern Rivers Alliance is recorded as saying, "A unanimous decision of Elders and Widjabul Wia-bal people was given to the Rous General Manager (on) Tuesday 8th December."


The group insisted that Rous County Council abandon plans for the Dunoon Dam.


“So many of our cultural sites have been destroyed. To destroy more is unacceptable to the Traditional Owners,” said Mr Roberts, “We are tired of being ‘consulted’ and then ignored. Enough is enough."


On the flip side of the argument is the pro dam group - Our Future Northern Rivers. One of their main points is the aquifer water levels, "We do not want our local aquifers plundered unnecessarily, and we do not want to be drinking or showering in toilet-to-tap recycled water". 


Our Future NR campaigned for the Dunoon Dam option to be reintroduced into the Future Water Strategy and investigated as a potential reliable, cost-effective water source. 


Whilst the Dunoon Dam is back on the agenda for investigation after this morning's Motion was successful, Cr Ndaiye and Cr Rob were both appointed today onto the Rous County Council Reconciliation Action Plan Advisory Group (RAPAG) will have the challenge ahead of ensuring cultural value is taken into consideration when deciding on the region's Water Security.


Rous County Council employs 90 staff, of which two identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. The newly elected Councillors, two of each from 4 councils within the water catchment and supply areas of Lismore City Council (LCC), Ballina Shire Council (BC), Richmond Valley Council (RVC) and Byron Shire Council (BSC) met today. Cr Robert Mustow was today elected as Chair and Cr Sharon Cadwallader as Deputy Chair.


Image: Rous County Council Water Supply Map-02/2022

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