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Water supplies pushed to the brink

Virginia Tapp, Wednesday February 5, 2014 - 17:29 EDT
Audience submitted image
Dams in drought affected parts of Queensland are drying up. - Audience submitted

Water supplies are being pushed to the brink in outback Queensland, with one mining town on the verge of running out.

North-west Queensland has more customers for water than ever, with the development of new mines, but is now experiencing one of the driest 18-month periods on record.

Many argue the solution is to build more dams, but it appears this is a bill nobody wants to pay.

Communities in the north-west have been crying out for better water storages for the best part of a decade.

The town of Cloncurry has highlighted the urgency of the situation in recent days, moving on to level six water restrictions.

By June, residents might have to boil drinking water and the local mayor Andrew Daniels says the town is even looking at the worst case scenario of evacuation.

"It's an extreme move, it's the final straw," he said.

"We've relied on two sources of water for the last 40 years and that's been the problem, that there's been no vision in the past to try and build another water source, so that when we get into situations like this we're not just scraping through."

The big dry has seen entire towns forced to truck in water and some mining operations are working to cut their fresh water use.

MMG runs the country's largest open cut zinc mine and the company's Ross Byers says it's halved its daily water usage at the processing plant.

"I'd like to reduce it a further 10 or 15 per cent and we're also looking at where we can treat our treated water on site here, so we could utilise that water again in the showers.

"That's another option we had and we still have that plan in place if required this year."

Glen Graham, the chief executive officer of the Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone (MITEZ), has been writing development applications to the Queensland Department of State Development for years.

He says north-west communities cannot keep gambling with their water supply.

"All too often, we experience a lot of stress from failed wet seasons and it seems to be happening with increasing frequency, and also consumption is increasing with new mines becoming customers to existing water suppliers."

Mr Graham says a new study into water planning conducted by the current state government may be too late for the north-west.

"It's late in a sense that we've now got to a situation where Cloncurry and Mount Isa are absolutely stressed, and I believe that from the date that the planning starts, it could actually take a decade to see a new dam."

The Department of State Development have not responded to requests for comment.


© ABC 2014

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