While the north of the state grapples with floodwaters, southern Queensland is facing a desperate drought with no end in sight, especially for those towns trucking water.
Between 40 and 50 trucks a day have been carting water to the Southern Downs town of Stanthorpe since January last year.
The water supply in the town of Clifton, 45 kilometres south of Toowoomba, also ran dry in 2019, forcing the Toowoomba Regional Council to truck in at least 12 loads of water daily.
Neighbouring towns such as Highfields and parts of Toowoomba recorded falls as high as 100 millimetres over 24-hour periods in the past week, but no significant rainfall reached the critical dam catchments on the Southern and Darling Downs.
Bill Brown has been carting stock water to his small hobby farm outside Stanthorpe for the past year, with help from charities.
He is worried policy makers and communities elsewhere will forget about the drought now it’s less visible.
“The drought hasn’t broken, it’s gone into a green drought,” he said.
He said the waiting game for rain was frustrating, although he was happy for parts of Queensland that had recorded strong falls.
“I just shake my head in amazement. Good on them,” he said.
“We see the clouds build up here and then we watch them get darker and darker and disappear to the coast without really any heavy rainfall falling in our area.
Locals hope for ‘gully raker’
Leslie Dam and Storm King Dam in the Southern Downs were at 12.42 per cent and 19.9 per cent capacity respectively on January 4.
Connolly Dam, where the water is now trucked from, was at 78.9 per cent.
The Southern Downs Regional Council said while recent rainfall was welcome, none of the three dams had received enough inflows to change current water restrictions of 120 litres per person per day.
Stanthorpe resident Max Hunter said years of harsh drought and disappointment over rain had taken a toll on the community’s morale.
“It’s a bit disillusioning really when you read up in the north of Queensland the amount of rain that falls in a short amount of time.
“What we need is one good gully raker as you’d call it — five or six inches of rain in the right area followed up by other rain events.”
He said rain in the past week had helped to fill water tanks in surrounding rural areas, but it was disappointing to see it miss the storage dams.
“Yard dams seem to be okay, but it’s the larger dams that the farmers rely on for their irrigation to get them through the season,” he said.
“Consistent rain is harder to come by and … it’s very concerning [for] future generations.”
Funding future uncertain
In July last year, the Toowoomba Regional Council wrote to the State Government seeking financial support for its $92,000 monthly water-carting bill to supply Clifton.
Councillor Nancy Somerfield said she was hopeful they could reach an agreement in 2021.
“Any chance we get we do mention that issue. It’s fallen on deaf ears to this stage but we’ll continue to pursue that,” she said.
The Toowoomba Regional Council’s three dams were at a combined level of 31 per cent on January 5.
Water Minister Glenn Butcher said the State Government was considering the region’s water needs, including the potential for a pipeline linking Wivenhoe Dam to the Southern Downs via Toowoomba.
The Government has been covering the full costs of carting water to Stanthorpe, but its agreement with the Southern Downs Regional Council is due to expire next month.
“We will continue to monitor forecasts and rainfall in order to make a decision about water carting beyond February 2021,” Mr Butcher said.
Rain ‘a matter of time’, BOM says
The Bureau of Meteorology said the past week’s falls around southern Queensland were good overall but patchy, with the driest parts around the Granite Belt.
“Places like Crows Nest and Highfields just north of Toowoomba all got falls in the triple digits,” meteorologist Livio Regano said.
“For the Southern Downs it’s probably more in the 20 to 50 millimetre range.
But he said the current La Niña weather event could still bring much-needed rain to the dam catchments before the end of the wet season.
“There’s every chance that in the next month of two the sky opens up and we get what we missed out on,” Mr Regano said.
“But all the stars are lined up in a way that favours better than average rain, so it’s only a matter of time.”