Construction of the Rocky Creek Dam circa 1950.Photo The Northern Star Archives
Construction of the Rocky Creek Dam circa 1950.Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

Potential water crisis within five years

THE Northern Rivers is facing a water crisis if households don't curb their usage now.

It is a scary thought, but Rous County Council is concerned it could be the region's future unless things change.

In 2014 the council released its Future Water Strategy report which stated by 2060, expected demand for water would exceed the reliable supply by 6500 megalitres per year, or about half of the current water supply.

Based on these predictions, within the next five years demand for water will match what current sources can reliably supply.

Search for water

Rous chairman Keith Williams said the council had been hard at work to secure the region's water future.

"We have adopted a multifaceted strategy. This involves a focus on water efficiency, investigations into groundwater... (and) a potential for an additional dam," he said.

"Currently our priority is getting water use down across the region. It will delay the need to find supplemental water supplies, which are often drastic, capital-costly measures.

"This is why we have launched the 160 litre challenge. We're trying to encourage homes to reduce daily water usage to 160 litres per person. At the moment most households are using 190 litres per person, per day."

For the past few years Rous has been drilling and testing bore holes, searching for reliable groundwater to supplement the current water supplies throughout the catchment.

He said the council would be able to assess the viability of groundwater as a supplemental water source next year.

Second dam?

Cr Williams said if Rous was unable to find a reliable, viable groundwater yield there was another, more drastic option.

"If we get to 2024 and haven't found enough groundwater or re-use is not sufficient, we have the option to consider constructing another dam," he said.

"Even if we found 20 per cent of the water we need in a harvestable yield in groundwater, it would push back the need for a dam for quite some time.

"It's a huge capital cost and we would rather look at our other options before having to consider that solution.

"The sooner we have to build a dam, the more it will cost our residents."

Cr Williams said while a second dam was not the council's first choice, Rous had already selected a potential dam site.

And, he added, there were benefits to a second dam other than increasing water supply, including helping to reduce the impact of flooding.

Catchment health

Cr Williams said Rous had been in the process of developing the Northern Rivers Watershed Initiative, which relies on managing water in the landscape of the catchment, not just water supply.

"We've been working on helping to replant catchment areas, which also reduces flood risk, and looking at how we can retain water in the catchment," he said. "We've also been looking to protect our vulnerable areas, and encouraging farmers to retain more water. There's a lot of things we can do to help protect our future."

Cr Williams said the council had also been looking at how to improve river health and help the region deal with climate change.

"It's so bad now, and talking 30 years into the future I hope we'll have the river back to good health where we can have oyster farms return," he said.

"I hope we see our rivers and creeks alive again. We have to cope with an increase in population and there are ways we can do that to help heal the region at the same time."