By Jeremy Sollars
The Southern Downs Regional Council says every town in the Warwick and Stanthorpe regions – with the exception of Yangan – is far exceeding daily targets for water consumption and has vowed to ramp up enforcement of water restrictions which as of tomorrow, Thursday 14 March, will move to the ‘extreme’ level in the drought currently crippling our communities.
At a media conference held earlier today, Wednesday 13 March, at the Warwick council chambers Mayor Tracy Dobie and senior council officers said ‘per person / per day’ water use by the region’s 19,000 urban residents using town water is currently between 350 and 400 litres, well above the 120 litre target now in place under the extreme restrictions.
Rural residents who purchase drinking water either directly from the council or from commercial water carters will also be subject to the same extreme restrictions and can face enforcement if found to be in breach of them.
The restrictions do not refer specifically to water used for livestock or other animals – either by urban or rural residents – but the council says it will direct water carters to deliver water only to a tank connected to a house on a rural property and that the water “should be used for domestic purposes”.
The council says rural residents can purchase non-drinking water for stock and agricultural purposes “from private water carriers” and has denied rural users will be required to sign statutory declarations to the effect they will not use council water they buy for animals.
Rural water users are being encouraged to access state and federal drought assistance programs for watering of livestock and those purchasing water from council standpipes in Warwick and Stanthorpe will be limited to 1000 litres per fill, capped at 3000 litres per week until Wednesday 1 May, after which such access will be reviewed.
Councillors voted to introduce the extreme level restrictions at a special meeting held this morning.
The council today also revealed that up to 25 per cent of town water supplies is lost across the region in a typical year through “system losses” including leaks from both council and private water pipes and from theft.
Residents are being encouraged to report suspected breaches of water restrictions, with penalties depending on the severity of the non-compliance starting at $391 for residential customers and $1,958 for non-residential customers.
The council has stated that bulk water from outside the region may need to be carted in – possibly by rail – if no significant rainfall is received in the next several months, potentially from Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam or other storages around Queensland at the discretion and direction of the Queensland Government.
The council says restrictions on businesses which use high volumes of water could be introduced in early May, following completion of ‘water efficiency plans’ being developed for individual businesses by the council.
Another emergency water measure the council announced today is an investigation into the viability of existing and new underground water bores across the region, and the council says grading of gravel roads using public water could be ceased indefinitely depending on rainfall in the near future.
Silt levels at Leslie and Connolly Dams in Warwick and in Storm King Dam at Stanthorpe will be “verified” to refine water use forecasts for all three storages.
The council currently predicts that with no significant inflow Leslie Dam will be empty by September next year, Connolly Dam by next February and Storm King Dam by November of this year, but many Stanthorpe locals believe the council’s forecast for Storm King Dam is overly optimistic.
Media were today told the council is “working with local businesses, sporting clubs and community groups to help them reduce their water consumption and conserve water, and is currently reviewing all aspects of Council’s raw and recycled water supply”.
Cr Dobie did concede individual water contracts and allocations – including the Connolly Dam raw water being used to irrigate the Warwick Polocrosse fields at Morgan Park ahead of the World Cup in April – could be varied and restricted if the council deemed it necessary.
She said all community and sporting groups will be expected to “share the burden” of drastically reducing water use.
“The water we save now is crucial to how resilient our community will be if drought conditions get worse. The more water we can save now, the better,” Cr Dobie said.
“As a Local Government we are responsible, first and foremost, for continuing to manage and provide water to residents who are connected to the urban water supply, and to provide support for rural residents who need to buy urban water for domestic purposes.
“We need the community’s help to reduce water consumption and we are asking everyone to be responsible and fair with how they use water.
“The target for everyone is 120 litres per person per day and everyone can make a difference.”
• Pick up a copy of this week’s Southern Free Times print edition out tomorrow, Thursday 14 March, for more water-related news.
• For full details of the extreme level water restrictions visit https://www.sdrc.qld.gov.au/ and click on the ‘Water restrictions’ tab at the bottom of the home page.
• Join SDRC for a live Facebook Q & A tonight from 5pm-6pm. Council officers and Mayor Tracy Dobie will be on hand to discuss and answer the community’s questions about drought and the region’s water supplies.