COMMUNITY MENDS CRACKS: As dams reach new lows the efforts of residents could buy the region more time.
COMMUNITY MENDS CRACKS: As dams reach new lows the efforts of residents could buy the region more time. Max Fleet BUN030913DRY1

OUR ONLY HOPE: How community will make it through drought

PEOPLE power could save the Southern Downs up to $2 million in water carting costs each week as Storm King Dam's supply gradually runs dry.

Careful adherence to the new critical level of water restrictions of 100 litres per person, per day, has the potential to buy the region additional weeks, or even months, of above ground water supply.

In the months since extreme level restrictions were imposed, Warwick residents have worked together to reduce their daily use from over 200 litres per person, per day, to 139 litres per person, per day.

Councillor Cameron Gow said restrictions effectively reduced water consumption across the region and may delay Storm King's D-Day until January.

"By and large people certainly understand and have been doing everything they can to save water," he said.

"The biggest impact will be the community's overall use of water between now and Christmas.

"If we can get as close as we can to that 100 litres per person per day, we give ourselves as much of an opportunity as possible to get through to the next major rain event."

According to Cr Gow, the community was able to reduce its use down to around 1 megalitre per week during the drought 20 years ago.

Estimated run out dates are calculated based on the number of megalitres per day communities use.

As the region heads into spring, warmer temperatures and humidity affect evaporation rates and Cr Gow said those factors can be unpredictable.

"Our goal is to try to maintain the date it's forecast and any gains made are certainly something the community and council want to aim for," he said.

Storm King Dam is currently sitting at 26.7 per cent capacity and once it runs dry, SDRC plans to cart water from Warwick to Stanthorpe at an estimated cost of up to $2 million per week.

Where those funds will come from, however, remains unknown.

SDRC has worked with the state government for more than 12 months on their water contingency plan and Mayor Tracy Dobie said she's "confident" the minister will provide financial support.

"It's quite a serious concern for local communities and the state and federal government have to work together to respond to a drought of this scale," Cr Gow said.

If the state does not allocate funding, SDRC will first draw on its cash reserves before finally imposing a water levy on its already-struggling population.

The amount of water carted to Stanthorpe would be based on the region's water targets and would be accessible to residents in the same way it is now, requiring no further inconvenience to residents or businesses.

Extreme level water restrictions will be considered around the same time water carting becomes necessary, according to Cr Gow.

"Moving to 80 or 90 litres per person, per day would be used in the event of having to cart water," he said.

"But there are a number of factors that go into that and it depends on the status of storages."

In the meantime, an increasing number of bores are being identified as supplemental water sources.

"We're testing as many bores and wells as we can find," Cr Gow said.

"A number have been identified as viable."

Once bores are approved for use, they could be added as a water source "within a matter of weeks."

"It would be quite quick," Cr Gow said.

"It would only be a matter of installing the correct equipment and having trucks available."

Bores located close to pre-existing pipelines would be connected, while those located further out would require trucks to transport water to the treatment plants.

It is likely that the bores will be used in conjunction with water carting for an indefinite period of time, as the Southern Downs waits for the worst drought on record to finally break.

After these measures, the only remaining reprieve will be rain.

Until then, community spirit will see the Southern Downs through.

"It's really no different to people rallying together for support during any other kind of disaster," Cr Gow said.

"We live in an amazing community and I'm sure we'll get through it."