Will a new dam solve our water supply problems?
WITH drought conditions setting in, a growing population and the region's main water supply rapidly dropping, Rous County Council is narrowing down options to solve a potential water crisis.
It's an issue the council has been addressing since adopting its Future Water Strategy in 2014, which includes looking at water efficiency, investigating the region's groundwater, bringing in a water re-use scheme and the Dunoon dam proposal as options to supplement supply.
While water demand management and conservation efforts continue, the council chairman Keith Williams said that over the past year Rous had allocated additional resources to fast-track exploring the benefits of each option.
"We are not sitting still,” Cr Williams said. "We've looked at desalination options and have been doing the groundwater investigations - we are drilling holes all over the Northern Rivers - but we haven't got the final report back yet.”
While the council has yet to complete the analysis of the social, environmental and financial costs and benefits of the options, Cr Williams said he believed the proposed Dunoon dam would be the best long-term solution.
The dam, which was proposed by the council as early as 1995, would be located near the existing Rocky Creek Dam, between Dunoon and Whian Whian.
"It doesn't make sense to increase the height of the Rocky Creek Dam wall, because although it's a very well-protected catchment surrounded by national park it's quite small, so increasing the height wouldn't make much difference,” Cr Williams said.
"The catchment for the Dunoon dam is much larger and represents about 2 per cent of the Wilsons River catchment.
"All the approval processes will take years, not months.”
The proposal was extensively investigated as part of the development of the Future Water Strategy and, at the time, Rous stated it "was not progressing with the Dunoon dam proposal”.
But Cr Williams said it was still a viable option and a number of technical studies were "still needed to determine how much the dam would cost and how much water it would hold”.
"Back then, Rous had purchased some of the land in the area and already owned about a third of the proposed dam area,” he said.
"The dam would need to be around a total of 30 gigalitres of storage and would cost in the vicinity of $200 million, depending on the design.”
While water consumption rates were rising and hotter and drier weather conditions were predicted, Cr Williams said he was "absolutely confident” the council could manage the existing water supply with the current demands.
"A growing population will require additional water sources by around 2025 and we are working towards that timeline,” Cr Williams said.
"Improving our water storage is so critical.
"The primary driver for all of this is population growth, combined with the drought ... it's about dealing with that long-term issue that we are a popular place for people to be moving to and this water supply is going to be servicing that larger population.”
He said the council had approached the State Government for financial support and would be talking to the Federal Government in terms of potential infrastructure funding.
Rous general manager Phillip Rudd said the work being done was to compare the options of demand management, groundwater, water re-use and the dam, and to find the best solution.
"We are aiming to have investigations finalised by early next year. We haven't eliminated an option yet,” he said.