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Gold Coast beachgoers may be forced to use recycled water to wash sandy feet as drought worsens

Tom Forbes, Wednesday December 11, 2019 - 18:40 EDT
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Charlotte Wormald washes her feet at a Broadbeach beach shower. - ABC

Gold Coast beach showers have once again become a barometer for the drought with Mayor Tom Tate saying bathers may be forced to use recycled water to wash the sand off their feet.

During the last major drought in south-east Queensland the beach showers were switched off for 18 months between 2004 and 2008.

The decision, by former Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke, was aimed at reminding tourists and visitors about water restrictions, but it caused anger and frustration among beachgoers.

Mayor Tom Tate said he did not plan to switch off the showers like his predecessor.

"I've asked the Director of Water … what is the possibility of having recycled water to wash your feet," he said.

"The showers will continue but instead of using drinking water to wash your feet, I've asked for a review of that.

"Do you need drinking water to wash your feet?"

The Mayor has already written to all of the city's hotels and apartment complexes asking them to place signage in rooms alerting tourists to the worsening water situation.

He also asked residents to play their part.

"Water is precious, start changing your habits in using less water," Councillor Tate said.

"You can still accomplish all the things you want to do, but just think it through.

"What's the best time to water the garden? Do it in twilight so the hot sun is not there to evaporate your water."

The Gold Coast was one of eight regions officially drought declared in south-east Queensland this week.

Councillor Tate said the drought declaration did not trigger water restrictions — that happened when South East Queensland's (SEQ) Water Grid drops to 50 per cent capacity.

The SEQ Water Grid was currently sitting at 58.3 per cent.

"In the interim the desalination plant is working and hopefully we get some rain," he said.

The drought declaration allows struggling primary producers to access drought relief assistance, but some farmers fear it may be too late.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said there were 160 farms in the Gold Coast region in 2016-17 — that's 1 per cent of all farm businesses in Queensland.

Sugar cane production was the most prevalent with 47 producers while there were 32 nurseries in the region.

Nursery operator Wesley Trevor has been running his business on two properties at Upper Coomera for 23 years.

"I have never seen it so dry for so long," Mr Trevor said.

"Usually you get little bits of rain in between, but we've just had nothing for six months."

One of his properties has a bore, which supplies ample water, but his second property relies on water from a local creek and it ran dry two months ago.

Now Mr Trevor said he was relying on water stored in two dams on the property.

"We have about enough water in our dams to last until, we think, the end of January," he said.

"So we have 4,000 square metres of indoor plants, which will basically all die at the end of January. So we have to sell them or face bankruptcy or who knows what?

"We just can't keep anything alive with no water."

The father of eight children said it would cost around $3,500 per week to truck in water and he said he could not afford the expense.

"We have about eight staff and we haven't laid anybody off yet," he said.

"I don't think [drought relief subsidies] will save the business, but it's good news … I'll certainly look into it."

Organic farmer David Freeman was also looking at what the declaration meant for his 150-acre property at Currumbin.

He grows subtropical fruit, vegetables and coffee.

"I've never seen it this dry in my lifetime," Mr Freeman said.

"We've just been every week hand watering my new [avocado] trees … and we're having to buy in water to keep them all alive."

The primary producer said he welcomed the drought declaration and hoped it would help him keep his property operating.

"I was seriously thinking in the past week, do I close up?" he said.

"But if I can get some relief I can get water, or money to build infrastructure to harvest water, so I can not only keep the current fruit trees alive, but I can put in my summer vegetable crop."


© ABC 2019

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