By Jeremy Sollars
The region is rejoicing after widespread heavy falls of rain last weekend and the early part of this week and local morale has received a much-needed boost, particularly in the rural sector.
But the rainfall has been tempered with the knowledge that the drought is still far from over, and while Warwick’s Leslie Dam now holds more than 14,000 megalitres (ML), Storm King Dam at Stanthorpe received only about a month’s worth of urban water inflow in real terms.
As of the start of this week Storm King Dam was at 11.6 per cent of full capacity with around 240ML, having only received a bit over 40ML as a result of the rain.
It means carting of water for Stanthorpe from Connolly Dam in Warwick – now with more than 1100ML in storage, having also received a significant inflow – by trucks down the New England Highway will continue indefinitely.
And as of this week the Southern Downs Regional Council had not foreshadowed any relaxation of the current ‘emergency’ level urban water restriction of 80 litres per person per day.
But with house tanks in some rural areas overflowing, for those residents at least some of the domestic water use pressure has been relieved, at least in the short-term.
Southern Downs councillors will hold their February meeting next Wednesday 19 February – their last before moving into ‘caretaker’ mode ahead of the council election on Saturday 28 March.
Water will be the principal topic of discussion, with Mayor Tracy Dobie this week saying the current water restrictions will be “assessed”.
While some locals have called for at least a temporary relaxation in restrictions, Cr Dobie this week strongly emphasised the need to continue to be “very conservative” with household water use across the region.
Looming at the end of March is a review of the region’s current drought declaration by the Local Drought Committee – a committee run under the auspices of the State Government with the identities of its members top secret, which the government has defended in the past due to the potential for conflicts of interest and recrimination.
While she did not say it in as many words, in her weekly video address on water issues Cr Dobie this week expressed her hope that the Local Drought Committee does not revoke the current drought declaration for the Southern Downs region on the back of the rain of recent days, making it clear the region has a long way to go before the drought being ‘officially’ over.
Cr Dobie said Stanthorpe’s Storm King Dam had only received about a month’s inflow and would need at least six months’ inflow before the council would even consider putting the Connolly Dam carting on hold.
She also said a contract awarded last week to de-silt Storm King Dam might also be out on hold but this would be discussed at next week’s council meeting.
But Cr Dobie was also upbeat about the boost to urban water supplies, saying without “further inflow” and by continuing to be “very conservative” with water use Warwick and Stanthorpe collectively have around “four years” worth of combined town water supply.
According to national weather watchers Higgins Storm Chasing Warwick itself received its highest “one-day” rainfall last weekend, with 105mm recorded to 9am last Saturday.
Last Sunday the Condamine River rose to just under 2.3 metres below the O.O. Madsen Bridge in Warwick before starting to subside bringing out the crowds of onlookers marvelling at the sight of the river breaking its banks.
Localised flash flooding resulted in numerous road closures across the region and at time of printing of the Free Times this week the Bureau of Meteorology was closely monitoring the progression of a cyclone pattern off New Caledonia.
The Queensland Government is yet to release details – including costings – of the proposed pipeline from Toowoomba to Warwick, announced in late January.
The pipeline would allow the region to access water from the Southeast Queensland Water Grid via Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam.
Premer Annastacia Palaszczuk said the pipeline could feasibly be in place by the end of 2020, with the government planning to use its extensive powers under the State Coordinator-General to push the project through.
A feasibility study on the pipeline is due in April, along with the State Budget.
Duanne Karle of the Weeping Mulberry plant nursery in Warwick said last weekend’s rain had more than anything given local spirits a much-needed lift.
Some had said opening his nursery six months ago demonstrated the unfailing optimism of locals, Duanne told the Free Times this week he’d seen a noticeable change of local mood among his customers.
Located in the ‘factory precinct’ of the former Parmalat milk factory on Warwick’s Victoria Street the nursery is on town water but Duanne said he had been extremely conservative with water use and would continue to be in the coming months.
But he said the rain had been welcome on a number of levels.
“Just in the last few days people seem a lot cheerier – I think in many cases people have really been missing their normal gardening activities,” he said.
“Obviously we are still in drought and we will still need to mindful of water use and people are very much aware of that.
“But just to see some green around the place and for people to have some water in their rainwater tanks is just wonderful.
“Gardening has a lot of benefits including from a mental health point of view and a lot of people have been missing that in recent times, particularly a lot of the older people.
As of Tuesday of this week according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) Warwick had recorded 147mm, against the long-term average for February of 63mm.
Stanthorpe had recorded 87mm, compared to the long-term February average of 84.5mm.
Tenterfield Shire Mayor Peter Petty said on Monday of this week “following this recent glorious rain, the level of the Tenterfield Dam this morning measured 60%”.
“The black swans and pelicans are back along with an increase in ducks and water hens which is a great indication that the ash levels have dropped and the purity of the Dam water is returning to normal,” Cr Petty said.
“Council, at the February 2020 Ordinary Council Meeting at Legume (on 26 February) will consider a recommendation that the current 4.7 Water Restriction for Tenterfield be eased and ultimately, Council will consider a complete re-write of the Drought Management Plan to ensure that the experience gained in the past two years is reflected in the introduction of future water restrictions,” he said.
“In the meantime, Council is working with Water NSW to establish a dam on the Mole River through the Federal Government’s NewGrid funding.
“Discussions to commence works for the feasibility study for this new dam will take place early March 2020.
“With the commissioning of a new water treatment plant in 2022, the community should be assured that even if rainfall levels decrease in the future, Tenterfield will have a secure, potable, water supply.
“Our community should also be proud of the work that our Council has achieved by being at the forefront of emergency water works and now issues with silt and ash runoff that many Councils throughout NSW and Victoria are having to deal with.
“Our Council has done the work and our experiences are being used as a benchmark for many of these Councils as they come to grips with fire damage to huge areas of water catchment.
“In closing however, I am mindful that not all areas of our Shire have received these good rains with many dams and creeks still dry and it will take much more rainfall to break this drought and give our rural residents the confidence to restock and turn their lives, and the life of this community, around.”
The Southern Downs Community Relief Group based in Warwick says it will be “giving out double the usual allowance of bottled drinking water at the Warwick Showgrounds this Saturday 15 February”.
“The marvellous rain that has fallen in the last few days means that most people now have water in their tanks” said Sally Edwards, secretary of the group.
“We have quite a bit of donated water on hand, both still and sparkling, so we want to hand out as much as possible this Saturday to clear our shed.
“Double allowances will also be available at Pratten, Leyburn and Goomburra on their usual collection days.”
Group president Sandra Head said the group “will still be open every Saturday in February until all the stocks are gone”.
“Over 550 families have benefited from this donated water over the past eight weeks, but we need to run down our stocks before the Warwick Show in March when we have to vacate the shed.”
SOUTHERN DOWNS REGIONAL COUNCIL WEEKLY WATER UPDATE – ISSUED ON MONDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2020…UPDATES EXPECTED FOLLOWING NEXT WEEK’S COUNCIL MEETING ON WEDNESAY 19 FEBRUARY…
Current levels and expected run out dates
• Current level and volume 11.6% and 239 ML (up from 196ML last week)
• Water remains in Storm King Dam as a contingency for emergency events and to provide a habitat for aquatic life.
• Leslie – current level and volume 13.44% and 14280 ML (up from 8149ML last week)
• Connolly – current level and volume 51.1% and 1106 ML (up from 943ML last week)
• Based on the latest data and current targeted usage, Leslie Dam will reach its minimum operating level by August 2022 (30 months) and Connolly Dam by August 2021 (18 months). This includes the supply of water to Stanthorpe and will be dependent on water quality.
• With commencement of water carting to Stanthorpe, Emergency Level Water Restrictions are now in place and will be enforced by Council through the Southern Downs Region, including the township of Jennings in NSW.
• The target for residential properties is 80 litres/person/day (l/p/d)
• Council will continue to assist residents and businesses to reduce their water consumption.
• Drinking water supplied by Southern Downs Regional Council is only available for use by Southern Downs Regional Council residents.
• Whilst some rainfall has been received in parts of the region, emergency water restrictions remain in place. Council urges people to do all they can to meet the emergency level water consumption target of 80 l/p/d.
• Warwick around 111 l/p/d (Jan 2020) 110 l/p/d (Dec 2019)
• Stanthorpe around 138 l/p/d (Jan 2020) 130 l/p/d (Dec 2019)
• Water must not be taken from a fire hydrant without the permission of the service provider unless it is for the purpose of fire fighting.
Stanthorpe emergency supply –
• Full time water carting is now underway from Connolly Dam raw water line in Warwick to Stanthorpe
• Water is transferred into 2 x 1 megalitre tanks which will gravity-feed the water into the existing raw water line at the wall of Storm King Dam.
• Based on daily use of 1.6ML per day, between 40 and 50 truckloads of water per day are required.
• Council upgraded the turn into Storm King Dam access road from Eukey Road, as well as Storm King Dam access road.
• Additional treatment units are in operation at Stanthorpe Water Treatment Plant to treat the water from Connolly Dam.
• Filling points are now being used to fill with raw water from the Connolly Dam raw water line.
• The State Government has committed $2.4 million to the upgrade works as detailed above. The State Government is also paying the cartage costs of $800,000 per month ongoing until February 2021.
• It is important that the water continues to be conserved and that the community remains vigilant in their water use to ensure the minimal amount of water is carted and the transportation costs are kept down.
• Contingency arrangements are in place for water carting to minimise any risk to Stanthorpe water supply from unforeseen events such as road closures due to bushfire, road accidents or to manage weather driven water quality changes.
Warwick emergency supply –
• Supplementary water may be sourced from bores
• New bores
• Reviewing Allora bores for suitability. Council is also investigating the feasibility of reversing the water pipeline from Warwick to Allora
• Investigating viability of existing public and private bores
• Water may be required to be sourced from outside the region and carted by rail or road to Warwick.
• Council is in discussion with Toowoomba Regional Council and Seqwater to supply water to Warwick via a new pipeline.
• Transfer of water will require temporary storage facilities and additional infrastructure, portable water treatment plants may be used to treat the water, design and construction of infrastructure for tankering
Wallangarra emergency supply –
• Emergency water supply for Wallangarra will be sourced from an existing, un-used production bore at Paling Yard Road. The bore was recently pump tested and results confirmed that the bore will be able to provide adequate supply to the town should the dams run dry.
• An emergency water permit has been issued by DNRME to allow Council to take water from this bore.
• Pipeline installation is now complete and work is now underway to install new pumps to transfer water from the bore to the Soak. Water will be pumped to the Wallangarra water treatment plant from the Soak to be treated prior to distribution to the town.
Pressure and Leakage
• Leak detection has been completed across the whole network.
• Leaks continue to be repaired as Council becomes aware of them
Water Efficiency Management Plans
• Council continues to work with businesses to reduce their water consumption. 11 Water Efficiency Management Plans have been approved and those businesses struggling to reduce their water consumption are encouraged to complete a Water Saving Action Plan.
Update on compliance notices
• Council has issued 116 compliance notices to date and 16 fines.
• Water consumption continues to be monitored across the region.
• Council continues to work with community members to ensure events can proceed with minimal water consumption, and whenever possible, water is to be sourced from an alternative supply.
• Council will display all information relating to the drought and current water crisis under a specific tab on the Council website.
• The Southern Downs Regional Council website should be the primary reference point for all questions relating to the water crisis. Every aspect related to the water crisis will be placed on a tab on the front page of the site. Updates will be provided on a regular basis to the website on key issues such as water restrictions, storage forecasts and water conservation tips, as well as frequently asked questions.
• Each Monday the Mayor will respond to important questions from the community that can be submitted either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via the Council Facebook page. The Mayor will provide these responses via a video message on the website, Facebook page and YouTube. The video message will aim to be informative and provide answers to specific questions where possible.