SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY: What happens if the dams run dry?
SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY: What happens if the dams run dry? Jodie Locke

What to expect when you're not expecting rain

THE Southern Downs may have to dig deeper to find the water it needs to stay afloat in drought.

An updated water contingency plan was released by the Southern Downs Regional Council this week, providing an idea of how the region will rise to the occasion as dam levels fall.

Emergency water restrictions are the first step to turning the taps a little tighter.

These new usage rules would limit residential water use to only 90 litres per person, per day and make the standpipes off-limits to public use.

Participation would be mandatory, with greater enforcement introduced to ensure residents bring their use to a slow drip.

Recent figures indicate Warwick residents have been using an average of 160 litres per person, per day, for the month of June.

Mayor Tracy Dobie said she understood the added restrictions would be tough.

"We've asked everyone to halve their use to get to this point and now we're going to ask them to almost halve it again,” she said.

"What impact does that have on the liveability of every resident in our region?

"For the mental and emotional well-being of every resident, we can't be asked to do this again.”

There seems to be little question that the prohibitive restrictions will come into place but the timing depends on assessments from contractors that are expected to arrive June 30.

Added restrictions should buy the dams more time, but as it currently stands there are only 16 months remaining in Warwick and far less in Stanthorpe.

If they run out, the SDRC will turn its gaze below to the network of bores scattered across council properties.

It is estimated there is currently at least 26 bores available to council and their viability is being assessed by a contractor.

The underground route contains many practical and financial hurdles as some bores may have been deserted for a long time, others may have buildings now on top of them, and the water table beneath some may have dried out.

The bores SDRC is able to successfully utilise will require additional infrastructure to connect and pump water to treatment plants.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy said they have committed $950,000 to funding this additional water storage.

If the worst were to happen and both Warwick and Stanthorpe's above and below supply ran dry, this would not occur for many years.

In the meantime, there are plans to ensure the region does not go without.

Options are on the table to access an allocation of Killarney's bore water, Allora's bore water and Coolmunda Dam.

In regards to the proposed Emu Swamp Dam, approval is conditional on state government funding and continues to be discussed.

Further applications for recycling water could be reviewed, easing the agricultural pressure on other sources.

The region is also able to access the most southern part of the Great Artesian Basin, though it is unknown how much water this section contains.

The long term goal of the SDRC is to establish a multi-million dollar water grid with pipelines connecting the Darling Downs, Western Downs, Southern Downs and Tenterfield to ensure no region runs dry again.

The project could take up to 25 years to complete and would require substantial funding from state and federal governments in order to proceed.

Council mayors have met to discuss the plan and have committed to ensuring it goes ahead, even if the drought breaks.

"We're starting this process,” Cr Dobie said.

"It will take a lot of advocacy to get governments to commit to this but we need it for our future.”

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