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Queensland's rain brings relief but not an end to drought and water shortages

By George Roberts and staff, Monday January 20, 2020 - 18:16 EDT
ABC image
Despite 50mm of rain over four days, the ground is still cracked and parched at this Scenic Rim property. - ABC

Days of rain have brought joyous scenes of celebration after much-needed downpours saturated parts of Queensland.

But is it enough to end the drought, or save towns from running out of water?

Short answer — not yet.

While some parts of the state, like the Gold Coast, , the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said it was hit and miss and to end the .

Here's what the rain has meant for different parts of the state.



Southern Downs

Farmers and communities on the Southern Downs are .

Mayor Tracy Dobie said the falls had taken the pressure off the whole region.

"It was pretty fantastic to hear the rain on the roof so consistently over a couple of days, which we just haven't had here now for three years. In fact, the inflow into both Connelly and Leslie, that's the first inflow to those dams in three years," she said.



"We've probably got another 18 months of water in Leslie Dam, which is absolutely fantastic."

But the Storm King Dam, which supplies the town of Stanthorpe, did not get any benefit from the downpours.

"Unfortunately, there's been almost no inflow into Storm King Dam near Stanthorpe so we'll be continuing with carting of water between Warwick and Stanthorpe," Councillor Dobie said.

The rain is a help, even if it has been patchy.

"If this rainfall these last few days means that we're getting back to something like average rainfall, then that really does give us a great degree of comfort over the coming year," she said.



South East Queensland dams

SEQ Water said the rain did little to increase water supplies to the south-east of the state, because the land was so dry.

Spokeswoman Sophie Walker said the Hinze Dam catchment saw very good rainfall of about 270mm, but overall there was only a small increase in water supply.

"We've seen the combined capacity of the South East Queensland dams increase just a little under 1 per cent, so we've had a 0.9 per cent increase in our combined dam capacity," Ms Walker said.

"Because it has been so dry … the rain that did fall has been soaked up by the ground."

"It's about two weeks of water supply based on our current situation." Ms Walker says.

She said separately that the Hinze Dam level increased by 4 per cent while Wivenhoe and Somerset dams each had negligible increases.

Scenic Rim

Despite about 50mm of rain over four days, the ground is still cracked and parched, and the dam is empty at Natalie and Darren Ward's property in the Scenic Rim.



"We count every drop," Mr Ward said.

The drought has forced them to slash their herd to 30 head of cattle and buy water and feed to keep them alive.

But the rain hasn't been enough to turn their fortunes.

"It's a good start, that's all it really is. If we don't get any follow-up rain in the next two or three weeks, then it's going to be pointless," Mr Ward said.

"All the green pick will burn off and it will be back to dry dirt again."

Wide Bay and Burnett

Parts of the drought-declared Wide Bay and Burnett recorded falls of more than 100mm over the weekend.

The BOM said Bundaberg South had a total of 158mm, while there was 100mm at Murgon and less than 10mm fell between Gayndah and Monto.



Storms have increased the storage level at Bjelke-Petersen Dam near Cherbourg in the South Burnett.

The dam was at 4 per cent capacity in December with less than 6,000 megalitres of water left but that has risen to 7.5 per cent, or 10,000 megalitres, since Thursday.

Cherbourg Aboriginal Council has water restrictions in place prohibiting outdoor water use including washing cars and filling swimming pools.

The BOM has predicted more rain this week, particularly in western parts of the region.

Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast and Gympie graziers said they would need a lot more rain to get their cattle out of trouble, despite heavy rain hitting parts of the regions.

Some areas of the Sunshine Coast recorded up to 188mm of rain on Saturday, while areas in the Gympie region saw over 100mm.

Gympie District Beef Association president Mick Seeney said while the rain was a welcome start to recovery for some farmers, the fight was far from over.

"Before the rain it was just horrible, farmers were at wits' end about where they were going to turn, what to do," he said.

"They were having trouble sourcing hay, grain was becoming difficult, they were mentally exhausted, physically exhausted, conditions have just got to them.

"There have still been some farmers that only got between 20 and 30mm — if you're one of those farmers … mentally, I can't even comprehend how that would feel.

"Some of my mates are in that situation."



Mr Seeney said the weekend's downpour "can only be the start" if conditions are to improve for desperate farmers.

"We really needed this rain desperately, with a capital D, but we need follow-up rain, run-off rain, rain to fill the dams, rain for irrigation," he said.

"I can't stress how important this was, but we need a lot more."

Drought declaration remains

In a statement, a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) spokesperson said "one rain event doesn't change ".

"While there have been welcome falls over many parts of Queensland, the far west, which has been in drought the longest, missed out," the DAF spokesperson said.

"The heaviest falls were along the south-east coastal areas. Further inland the rain quickly dropped off.

"Local drought committees will meet at the end of the wet season — generally April — to assess conditions and make recommendations."

Now it's heating up

The BOM said most of Queensland was now experiencing a January heatwave with extreme conditions along much of the east coast.

Forecaster Peter Markworth said a heatwave is classified as higher than average maximums but also higher than average minimum temperatures over three days or more.

"We are seeing temperatures inland getting up to four to five degrees above the January average," he said.

"The heatwave is caused by the warm conditions and the lack of cooling during the night.

"It has been pretty significant over the Cairns region and the Gulf of Carpentaria but now that warmer air and moisture is now coming down right across coastal Queensland into the Brisbane region."


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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