DRIVE FOR OPTIONS: Residents are concerned SDRC isn't selecting the cheapest carting solution.
DRIVE FOR OPTIONS: Residents are concerned SDRC isn't selecting the cheapest carting solution. Jim Campbell

SDRC explores options to reduce hefty cost of carting

AS THE well of water transport alternatives dries up, the Southern Downs is left with no choice but to spend millions of dollars each week to truck water from Warwick to Stanthorpe come January.

During a question and answer session this week, Southern Downs Regional Council representatives revealed a number of transport options they'd pulled the plug on.

Rail would be able to transport significantly more water than a B-double, with Warwick builder and RANGE president Peter Kemp estimating that one locomotive could carry the equivalent of 50 B-doubles in one trip.

Mr Kemp alleged trucking was the most expensive option for water transport, saying the council had a duty of care to find the cheapest option for residents.

"The cost of supply from Warwick to Stanthorpe, if we ran out tomorrow, would be about $100 million if we looked at the cost of B-doubles,” he said.

"The train would use 1.5 litres more fuel per kilometre than one B-double and because it carries so much more water it's very economical and just a fraction of the cost.

"A B-double costs about $6 per kilometre and you'd need about 50 loads a day to take enough water to Stanthorpe.

"It's too much trucking.”

But Queensland Rail told SDRC they were unable to provide the infrastructure necessary for rail to be a viable transport option.

Mayor Tracy Dobie said she'd spoken with the Minister for Transport and Main Roads last year to discuss carting.

"They said they didn't have the locomotives or the carriers,” she said.

"They don't have the capability in Queensland at this time to bring that water here.”

The cost of water from outside of the region, as well as the distance between the rail line and the water treatment plant, would incur an additional cost, which places rail further outside of the realm of possibility.

"The least expensive water is the water in our region,” Cr Dobie said.

Mr Kemp said using water from within the region may cost more than money during a time of extreme drought.

"Taking two million litres a day out of our supply is going to affect us,” he said.

"There's a real concern in the community about that water.”

Jodie Locke captures Leslie dam low levels.
Jodie Locke captures the low level of Leslie Dam in July. Jodie Locke

The prospect of army forces carting water was floated to the council, but attendees at the session were told it was an option they'd already explored with the federal drought coordinator.

"He said the army doesn't have the number of vehicles necessary to truck water to the region and they're not set up for that sort of long-term trucking,” Cr Dobie said.

The natural disasters the army is able to be called in for require a coordinated response of weeks, rather than the months necessary for drought.

The army's ability to get involved rests on the question of whether a drought is considered a natural disaster.

"We've had a very heated discussion with the federal Minister for Drought David Littleproud about this in a council chamber last week,” Cr Dobie said.

"The federal and state governments do not recognise drought as a disaster.”

As the tendering process for water carting nears its completion, council was also asked why they were not using their own resources to reduce costs.

Water manager Seren McKenzie said the council had looked into transporting the water themselves but realised they didn't have the capacity.

"The better option for us was to put it out to market,” she said.

SDRC CEO David Keenan said the enterprise bargaining agreement would mean council staff would have to be paid far more in the case of trucking water outside working hours.

"If we used council staff we'd run into trouble with overtime and time in lieu,” he said.

"Sometimes the private sector is a bit more flexible.”

SDRC continues to investigate options for where Warwick water will be carted from, with both dams and bores currently on the table.

"It depends on the finalisation of tender,” Cr Dobie said.