By Jeremy Sollars
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has visited Warwick and Stanthorpe today to discuss the drought with the Southern Downs Regional Council but stopped short of committing funding for emergency water supplies.
The Premier and her entourage – including Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner – swept into Warwick shortly after 9am today, Thursday 15 August, catching both local media and Mayor Tracy Dobie largely by surprise, with Ms Palaszczuk’s office only providing a couple of hours’ notice of her visit.
The Premier and Mr Furner met briefly with Cr Dobie and senior council officers behind closed doors in the Warwick council chambers before departing for Stanthorpe without the opportunity for Warwick media to ask questions.
Ms Palaszczuk later told media – while standing on the banks of a rapidly-lowering Storm King Dam – that she would “not allow (Granite Belt) families to run out of drinking water”, but said any request from the council for emergency funding would need to be “in writing”.
After the Premier’s brief Warwick visit Cr Dobie told the media that she remained confident the Queensland Government would contribute to the cost of providing emergency water supplies and infrastructure for the region, particularly in the case of Stanthorpe, which is forecast by the council to run out of urban water in early December
Councillors at a confidential meeting session held on Monday of this week, 12 August, voted to award a contract to Toowoomba-based Newlands Civil Construction to provide what the minutes of the meeting only refer to as “emergency water infrastructure”, with no details of cost.
Following the Premier’s visit today Cr Dobie told the Free Times the “emergency water infrastructure” would be the installation of two one-megalitre water tanks at Storm King Dam to hold water carted in from outside the Stanthorpe area, and a “trunk main” water line to transport that water by gravity-feeding to the Stanthorpe Water Treatment Plant for urban use.
Cr Dobie said emergency water for Stanthorpe – in the event the town reaches ‘day zero’ – would initially be sourced and carted from Leslie and Connolly Dams in Warwick, council and private bores in the Warwick area and also from outside the region, without specifying outside sources.
The mayor said the council will apply to the Queensland Government to fund the tanks and pipeline.
The minutes of Monday’s confidential meeting state funds for the emergency infrastructure will “be made available through the Council water reserves if funding is not forthcoming from the State or Federal Governments”.
Cr Dobie has previously stated the cost of provision of emergency water from Stanthorpe could be at least $1 million a month.
She said contractors from Newlands Civil Construction are already on site at Storm King Dam.
Despite Ms Palaszczuk visiting Stanthorpe today a meeting with the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce was not on her itinerary.
The Chamber has been the ‘proponent’ and driving force behind Stanthorpe’s planned Emu Swamp Dam, for which the Queensland Government committed $13.6 million earlier this month.
The Southern Downs Regional Council has to date committed no funds for Emu Swamp Dam, having steadfastly maintained ratepayers should not have to help fund a primarily irrigation dam for the Granite Belt.