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Emergency water to cost ratepayers $70k per week, as they seek solutions

By Lucy Loram and Erin Semmler, Thursday April 15, 2021 - 04:53 EST
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Mount Morgan resident Jessica Geiszler says the situation has been heartbreaking for her family and the wider community. - ABC

Frustrated Mount Morgan residents want a long-term solution to their dwindling town water supply in central Queensland, as carting water is costing the region's ratepayers $70,000 a week.


About 140 residents attended a community meeting on Tuesday night to vent their concerns about the quality of the dam water, and offer feedback on six long-term options proposed by Rockhampton Regional Council.


With the town on level-six water restrictions, 3,000 residents are reliant on an emergency supply of up to 22 water trucks a day.


"Having to explain to the kids that they can't play under a sprinkler when they see people in Rocky able to do that ? it's the hardest thing because they're so young," resident Jessica Geiszler said.


"It's really heartbreaking.


"Ever since the water's been so low, multiple health conditions have arisen and also getting sore bellies from drinking the water ? something needs to be done asap."


Town's water at 8 per cent


Mount Morgan No.7 Dam, is sitting just above eight per cent and the Rockhampton Council's long-term solutions include; treated mine-pit water, a new dam, a 26km Gracemere pipeline, excavation of Fletcher Creek, a dam capacity increase, or a Stanwell Renewable water supply.


John Steinberger, president of Mount Morgan Promotions and Development, who has lived there for 38 years said water has "always been a problem," and he hoped the council was "fair-dinkum" about solving it.


But he was left disappointed on Tuesday night.


"[I'm] not too impressed with analysis of subjects, no indication on any timelines to come to any conclusion to establish priorities," he said.


But Rockhampton Mayor Tony Williams said the council was committed to solving the issue.


He said until good rainfall filled the dam, they would need state Government support and he was in contact with Queensland's Minister for Water, Glenn Butcher.


"The community are very patient and nervous and frustrated and we get that," Mr Williams said.


"We're working with them now to look at a long-term, sustainable water supply.


"The next step will be a feasibility study, I haven't got any indications on timelines but that'll be something that we can work on."Looking at Stanthorpe and the precedent that's been set down there, they were around the $800,000 a month to supply that community with potable drinking water so hopefully it's not going to be that high ..."


'Water is the new gold'


Former mayor Gavin Finch has lived in Mount Morgan for 21 years and said a solution was overdue.


"We're heading into the winter months now, which is the dry season and we're going to be looking at 20-30 trucks a day just so that we can use the minimal amount of water that we can," Mr Finch said.


"We drive 25 minutes away and they've got beautiful green lawns and all the things that you get from living beside the second biggest river system in Australia.


"As history will show, Mount Morgan basically put the rest of this area on the map and they've prospered ? and we're sort of slowly dying, unfortunately.


"It's very frustrating and I'm glad they're looking at it, it's never too late ? but it has been a long time waiting."


Tourists numbers down


Art gallery owner Kirra Swain supported the option of a pipeline to keep the dam level at "75 to 85 per cent at all times" and encourage businesses to invest in the town.


"We've seen a massive reduction in tourists coming up," she said.


"At one stage, they raised the dam wall and it was supposed to be a permanent solution but every time they make a prediction on how long the water is going to last ? it just doesn't or we don't have rain.


"In this climate ? whether it be La Nina or El Nino, climate change or anything ? water is the new gold, and we really need that resource to be able to be utilised for everybody."


Odd tasting water is 'safe'


Jason Plumb, Fitzroy River Water manager said while the water had an odd taste and smell it was safe to drink.


"We're moving as quickly as possible to give the community confidence that the water they'll be receiving from Gracemere is much better to drink from the point of view of taste and odour," Dr Plumb said.


"I think the mood of the meeting and obviously the passion showed by the Mount Morgan community, I think it is entirely appropriate, given the significance of the issue."


Dr Plumb said the price of carting water would now be as much as $10,000 a day ? a jump from initial estimates of as little as $3,000 a day.


"We've finished a procurement process that now has given us the likely actual cost of using a range of different contractors to do that," he said.


"That has enabled us to confirm some of those earlier estimates which were simply based on limited information.


"At this point in time, what's being paid for is coming out of Fitzroy River Water's budget, which is obviously supported by the ratepayer base."


Slowing the flow


Central Queensland University Aquatic Ecology expert Adam Rose said building more dams could form part of the solution.


"What we need to do is really focus in on our water cycle," he said.


"We need to stop thinking of dams as bad for the environment, instead we need to start thinking about ways that we can put more dams in, [implement] other ways ? to slow down that water by contouring the land, planting native species back on there that will allow for the native biodiversity to increase.


"By doing that, the water, instead of rushing out of the system so quickly it stays in our system a bit longer."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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