Water security remains a priority

07 Feb 2023 |

 7 February 2023

Southern Downs Regional Council values water resources and understands that it is vital to the region’s liveability to have drought-resilient contingency plans for short, medium and long-term water security.

The region recently struggled through several years of unprecedented drought which had a devastating impact on many livelihoods. Growers lost entire crops, tourism operators closed their doors, local businesses went bankrupt and the mental health of our surrounding communities was shaken.

Since 1980, the Stanthorpe Shire Council, Warwick Shire Council and most recently, Southern Downs Regional Council have been methodically exploring a range of water projects to shore up long-term water security for the Southern Downs, one being a dam building proposal known as Emu Swamp Dam (ESD).

Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said the ESD proposal has had a long history with various Councils and this project is only one of many cogs in the wheel of water security.

“The proposal as it exists today is the result of 43 years of open and transparent deliberations that various terms of Council has had with the Queensland Government and our community, and it is still currently the preferred solution to providing water to irrigators as well as meeting our urban needs,” Mayor Pennisi said.

“While Council’s current involvement in the ESD project for Stanthorpe has been shaped by these decisions, it is not the only option for long-term water security that has been pursued for all of Southern Downs.

“Council is proactively addressing water security through a multi-pronged approach with many moving parts and we are well aware that the region is one day closer to the next drought.”

The crippling 2019/2022 drought saw Stanthorpe run out of water with Storm King Dam drying up and water being trucked from Connolly Dam to Stanthorpe between January 2020 and March 2021 at a cost of $10 million to the Queensland Government.

The drought triggered the Queensland Government’s $19.34 million Southern Downs Drought Resilience Package which included a range of projects aimed at providing water security for Southern Downs including upgrades to the Warwick Water Treatment Plant. As part of the package, works will soon commence on upgrading infrastructure to connect to groundwater supplies in Warwick and Allora which will ease water supply pressure from industries and free up more supply for urban use.

Preparatory works for the proposed Toowoomba to Warwick pipeline, including detailed design, costings, surveying and geotechnical works, are now reaching the final stages. When complete, the project will provide further water security to the region.

Leslie Dam recently benefited from a $4.54 million equipment upgrade to increase the usable water capacity by 1700 ML. The replacement of the 55-year-old pumps with more powerful and energy efficient units and the installation of a modern switchboard system will improve the region’s ability to access dead storage during a drought. Sunwater is collaborating with Council on a solution to access the rest of the dead storage at the dam.

Council has also conducted investigations into further local groundwater supplies near Warwick, Allora and Stanthorpe.

At the end of last year, Stanthorpe welcomed the rollout of new digital smart water meters with approximately 95% installed. The initial monitoring of meters realised significant water savings when 24 water leaks were detected in the first week of operation and 60 leaks detected in the first month. The volume of water lost to leaks, as detected by the smart meters alone, is in the order of 1 ML per month (0.4 litres per minute). Council expects this number to drop substantially as more leaks are detected and repaired.

The next stage of the smart meter program will enable real-time access to water use data being transmitted by radio to an on-line customer portal, allowing residents to have greater ability to monitor and change water consumption behaviours. The smart water meter project aligns with Council’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2021-2031 in the priority area of valuing water.

Notwithstanding the many other facets of long-term water security being pursued, Council considers the construction of Emu Swamp Dam to be a critical component of the overall water security solution for Stanthorpe, the Granite Belt and the broader Southern Downs region.

Last edited date 07 Feb 2023