By Jeremy Sollars
The Southern Downs Regional Council says it has issued no fines for excess household water consumption since restrictions were last relaxed in March of this year but has warned that “continued non-compliance” could attract “financial penalties”.
Town water restrictions have been capped at 120 litres per person per day since March when they were relaxed from 80 litres, partly in recognition of what the council said was the need for “increased hygiene” related to COVID-19.
Some residents have suggested to the Free Times in recent weeks that the current water restrictions should be further relaxed in light of the regions’ dams holding just over two years’ worth of town water supplies, but Mayor Vic Pennisi has so far given no indication this will be the case. Indeed, with this week being ‘National Water Week’ Cr Pennisi and the SDRC are encouraging residents to take part in the ‘One Bucket Challenge’ to raise awareness about excess water use.
The ‘challenge’ involves filling a 10-litre bucket with water and using it as your only household water supply for one night – no taps, no showers, and no running water between 5pm and 5am. National Water Week coincides with the release by the council of the latest water consumption data for the region – based on September water meter readings – which shows residents of most towns and villages in the region were exceeding the 120 litre per person per day limit, perhaps to be expected with the arrival of warmer weather.
Only Dalveen, Leyburn and Yangan households came in below the restriction limit last month. Warwick and Stanthorpe were both on just under 160 litres per person per day based on the September data. Reports to the October round of council meetings state that “approximately” 120 households across the region have been identified by council officers as “potential high use cases”.
So far council officers have taken a “personal, educative approach” to excess water use but if excess use continues households consistently exceeding the restrictions could face a $399 fine.
Compliance activities in relation to water use involve the issuing of a ‘compliance notice’ – effectively a written warning – before the council resorts to the imposition of a fine. A council spokeswoman said council officers apply an average of 2.4 persons per household in calculating average ‘per person’ water use taken from meter readings.
“In early March water restrictions were relaxed from 80 litres per person per day to 120 litres per person per day in recognition of the need for increased hygiene following the rise of COVID-19,” the spokeswoman told the Free Times this week.
“In light of the stresses our community was facing from Covid-19, very few compliance notices were issued during that time – only five compliance notices and no fines.
“Cases of high consumption were still followed up, however, compliance staff used the opportunity to speak to people as an education tool regarding water usage. “Consumption data from the latest water meter readings has now been received and compliance staff will follow up with compliance notices and the issue of fines for continued non-compliance.” Carting of town water by road for Stanthorpe from Connolly Dam in Warwick continues at a cost of around $800,000 a month, met by the State Government which has committed to continuing that service until at least February next year, having spoken of hope for the summer “rain season”. But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has repeatedly said she will not allow Stanthorpe to run out of water.