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Day zero approaches for Stanthorpe as locals face prospect of levy to cover cost of trucked-in water

Elly Bradfield, Monday August 5, 2019 - 19:10 EST
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Storm King Dam, meant to supply the town of Stanthorpe, is weeks away from running out. - ABC

Locals describe it as the "worst drought in living memory" but things are about to go from bad to worse in the southern Queensland town of Stanthorpe, with the town water supply weeks away from drying up.

If there is no rain by the end of spring, the council has estimated it will have to truck 45 loads of water per day, costing up to $2 million a month, to supply the town.

The Queensland Government has refused to be drawn on whether it will contribute, but the council said it would be forced charge ratepayers a levy if governments did not step in.

Families struggling

As people run out of tank water, many are turning to the town's laundromat to do their clothes washing.

Laundromat owner Chris Reedy said business had doubled but that was a bitter pill to swallow with the community struggling.

"I've seen at least four families last week only wash half the clothes they've got because they haven't got enough money," Mr Reedy said.

"They struggle to put food on the table, let alone come and do washing for hygiene," he said.

"I feel depressed to see people in that state … especially families and young kids.

"I've been helping out a bit with free loads to try to help out where I can."

He described spirits in the town as "at an all-time low" and raised concerns about people's mental health.

Without water you can't make concrete

Traditionally the winter period was concreter Lachlan Carnell's busiest time, but with most farmers cash strapped, work has dried up and he has been forced to tell staff to "take whatever [work] they can get".

"Without water you cannot mix concrete, so everyone's a bit stressed at the moment," he said.

"The plant will have to start trucking in water, which is going to stress us the contractors and the clients because obviously the concrete is going to go up in price.

"I haven't been doing anything for farmers lately, so it's just been small jobs here and there."

Levy threat causes fear

At the motel, owner Michael Jensen raised concerns about the impact of a water levy on the already struggling town.

"I think it could have been handled a lot better because there's a lot of people out there now that are very scared of what's ahead of us," he said.

"We have an ageing population and a lot of those older people, including my parents for example, just have to try to find that extra money if it does come to that situation."

Mr Jensen broke down when he described the impact of the drought on his community.

"If we don't get water in the next three to six months I fear for the actual community," he said.

"It's tough; tough for everyone especially the farmers."

'Not just farmers who struggle'

Secretary of the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce Amanda Harrold said the levy would be "the last straw" for many people.

"It goes all the way through the town through families, the retail, the shopping centres, all the way to the school, to the hospital — what services will be kept if we have a dwindling community?" she said.

"It's not just the farmers who struggle in a drought.

"This community cannot bear the cost of this, there just won't be the money."

She said business was already down 20 to 50 per cent.

"We are lucky that some tourists are coming to town, but with tourists comes the water usage, so it's a really hard balancing act."

With the now fully funded, there is some hope for locals that the region can be protected from future droughts.

But the Bureau of Meteorology has warned the town is unlikely to receive the soaking rain needed in the coming months.


© ABC 2019

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