INNOVATIVE THINKER: Gail Gillis might be onto something.
INNOVATIVE THINKER: Gail Gillis might be onto something. Liana Walker

Farmer floats cheap, creative idea to save dam water

RECYCLED plastic milk bottles may be the secret to saving water as one innovative Southern Downs farmer floats an idea set to lift the spirits of landholders and their children.

As Happy Pig Farm co-owner Gail Gillis watched thousands of dollars of water pour into her dam this week she felt nothing but concern for the warmer months ahead.

It was a stretch to afford the water but she'd made the necessary sacrifices to ensure her stock survived the drought.

"We really need that water,” Mrs Gillis said.

"But I'm worried it will evaporate away and that'll be the end of that.”

Research revealed traditional methods of preventing evaporation were far too costly for the farm so Mrs Gillis was forced to think outside the box.

"Why not float some milk bottles?” she said.

"I've had some cut down into dishes and they've been sitting out there in the sun for years.

"They're food grade and they don't disintegrate so I can't see a problem with it.”

The concept of a low-cost, floating patchwork quilt of recycled plastic bottles was adopted.

It's a new spin on an old idea used worldwide in high evaporation areas, where plastic balls are used to reduce the surface area and save governments millions of dollars in lost water.

Research by engineering graduate Eliza Mooring, at the University of NSW, found a blanket of plastic bottles could cut evaporation by up to 70 per cent on farm dams, but her work has yet to move past the concept stage.

"It'll be a lot of trial and error when it comes to making them,” Mrs Gillis said.

"But it's all about finding creative solutions during drought.”

During a chance phone call with a Stanthorpe childcare centre, the Happy Big Farm recruited their first supporters: Children of Stanthorpe.

Mrs Gillis was told her project could help children who are feeling the impact of drought.

"The children are stressed because their families are stressed,” she said.

"The lady from the childcare said it would empower the children and give them something really significant to contribute.

"They said it would be a wonderful idea for the families to get involved.”

With the help of the children and the plastic milk bottles donated from families across the region, the team hopes to create plastic bottle quilts for every Southern Downs landowner who needs them.

"We're all looking at mud puddles and, after this warm weather hits, there won't be mud - there'll be nothing if we don't do something about it,” Mrs Gillis said.

"Imagine how much water we can protect and it won't cost us anything as a community.”

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