Dunoon Dam: It’s Dam Confusing

May 27th, 2021

Are you as confused about the Dunoon Dam issue as I am? I certainly was, so I read up on it and talked to a few people in the know. Most people are not keen on building the dam but there remains a pro dam lobby that is intent on pushing this through. Therefore, it is necessary that more people get their head around this major decision our community needs to make and make sure we are not bulldozed into a big hole in the ground.

The proposal is for a two hundred million dollar, fifty gigalitre dam to be built at Dunoon. A feedback and submission process has been active from April 1st to May 28th. Sorry to those who would have liked to engage with this if you are just learning about it now. I have not been following it in the past as I assumed it was not going to affect me, but it will, as it will for many of us in the Northern Rivers.


Rous County Council is the governing authority handling this issue. They are based in Lismore and are responsible for flood mitigation, weed biosecurity and the water supply for the Byron, Lismore, Ballina and Richmond LGAs. Some councillors from each shire are appointed onto the Rous council as well as representing their respective shires.

Is it Dead Already?

It seems that Rous Council has already listened to the experts and decided against going ahead with the dam. But there are persistent noisy people who love big infrastructure projects and are not taking No Dam for an answer. In some shires, there are signs springing up saying “Build the Dam” as part of an aggressive pro-dam campaign.

It is certainly true that we do need to ensure water security for the coming decades. Rous Council’s Future Water 2060 proposal expects population growth will require 37% more drinking water by 2060. Climate forecasts predict a reduction in available surface water of 22% by 2060. Just on current growth, and without more climate emergencies, we will require access to more water before the end of this decade. Our current water sources are Rocky Creek Dam, Emigrant Creek Dam and the Wilsons River. Will these sources be sufficient to fill the gap?

Expert Advice

Chair of Rous County Council Keith Williams is against the dam and is requesting the public to not listen to the pro-dam lobby. Prof. Stuart White, from the University of Technology Sydney, has also advised and written extensively on this topic. Prof White has consulted on water delivery projects around Australia as well as around the world. Both concur that there is scope for major improvements in the ​efficiency of water use in the region.

This advice is encouraging the community to decide on a combination of water-saving options as well as smaller, less expensive groundwater sources. This includes groundwater schemes and bores in Newrybar, Alstonville and Tyagarah. We need an educational and promotional campaign to ensure mainstream awareness of the alternative options so we are not the victims of another episode of the ABC TV series Utopia.

Save water

For less than a quarter of the cost of the dam, people could get incentives to adapt toilet cisterns, showerheads and washing machines. Businesses could have free water audits and introduce savings. Agriculture can adapt and instal better irrigation technology. Homes can be fitted with smart metres to better monitor usage.

By far the best bang for the buck is for more residential houses to add stormwater tanks. There are already incentives in place to help with the cost to get run off tanks installed. Go here to find out more. Installing a water tank in your home will also help with flood mitigation in times of heavy downpours. All of these practices will save money, employ more people and make our region more resilient into a changing climate era. Where is the modelling to show whether a policy of more water tanks with greater subsidies should be part of the solution or not?

If there is an increased demand for water in the future, there is always the option of desalination plant or water recycling. Water recycling is being used as a negative by the pro-dam lobby but this technology has been used successfully around the world.

Loss of Indigenous Values and Biodiversity

The costings for the Dunoon Dam of over $200 mil does not even place a value on the loss of old-growth forest, agricultural land and indigenous sacred sites. It is time we take into account these cultural and spiritual values that are so often not part of the balance sheet when in reality these things are priceless.

It is time to say goodbye to these big infrastructure projects that are only of benefit to the big end of town and politicians who want to make public announcements. Maybe we need to damn the dam and look into saving, conserving and appreciating our precious water resource well into the future.

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