By CAITLIN CROWLEY
CONSTRUCTION of a long-awaited water pipeline connecting Toowoomba to the Southern Downs is pushing ahead after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced $300 million for the controversial project during her community cabinet visit to Stanthorpe yesterday.
The pipeline will carry water from Wivenhoe Dam and connect to Toowoomba Regional Council’s (TRC) existing water infrastructure to deliver water to Warwick and the smaller communities of Nobby, Clifton, Greenmount and Cambooya along the way.
“Construction of the pipeline will deliver approximately 420 jobs to the local communities as well as long-term water security, which is critical to jobs, economic growth and liveability of Queensland communities,” Palaszczuk said.
While the Premier said it was “fantastic news for the future prosperity of these communities”, both Toowoomba and Southern Downs councils have expressed concerns about a lack of consultation, potential costs and impacts of the project since it was first announced at the height of the region’s drought crisis in late 2019.
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio has repeatedly called for clarity on the project, including as recently as February this year, and the Caller understands TRC was kept in the dark on this latest announcement.
When the Caller asked the Premier if Toowoomba Regional Council was on board with the pipeline being built, she said: “Well I think they should be, because we’re putting $300 million dollars into it.”
When pressed on the issue, she said: “Well I’ll give the $300 million dollars to someone else that wants it – I’m quite sure the community wants to have water security. It’s the biggest issue they’ve been raising with me and I’m delivering it”.
Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said his concern had always been the cost to ratepayers.
“That’s the unknown quantum and as long as the cost to the ratepayer is affordable, it’s going to deliver some relief if and when Leslie Dam goes completely dry.”
Yesterday was not the first time Toowoomba Regional Council has been blindsided by a major Palaszczuk Government announcement, after the Premier’s Wellcamp quarantine facility bombshell last year.
Toowoomba Councillor Rebecca Vonhoff, responsible for the water portfolio, said the Mayor told the Council during their Tuesday committee meeting he’d received a call from water minister Glen Butcher and an announcement was coming later that day.
“The Premier’s comments reminded me of when she announced the Wellcamp quarantine facility and said ‘Well, he does now’ when she was asked if the Mayor was aware of plans,” Vonhoff said.
“Councillors need more detail and then we’ll be in a position to vote on whether we can support or need to oppose this (the pipeline).
“I won’t pre-empt that vote and as someone who respects democracy, I’m sure the Premier wouldn’t ever want to do that either.”
Cr Vonhoff said she wanted to know whether the Southern Downs would be on the same water restrictions as Toowoomba, who its understood will own the pipeline and who will be required to pay for its maintenance.
“At a minimum we’d need to know if the pipeline from Wivenhoe to Cressbrook (dam) was being expanded as well as the pump at Wivenhoe,” Vonhoff said.
“A huge consideration is the ongoing water treatment costs at Cambooya, Greenmount and Nobby because if it’s raw water in the pipe that’s not treated at Mt Kynoch, there will have to be treatment plants along the way for those towns and what’s the price of that to Toowoomba region residents for the next 10, 20, 50 years?”
Water minister Glen Butcher said Toowoomba residents could be confident the pipeline would not impact their existing water supply, while providing drought resilience to surrounding communities.
“I’ve got some conversations to happen over the next month or so with both the mayors, just in relation to some of the concerns that have been flushed out in the past,” Butcher said.
“We’re working very closely, and I’ll be working very closely with both mayors to make sure this project is exactly what they’re looking for and exactly what the state is intending to do with water security for regional Queensland.”
The Premier said the pre-construction phase could start within the next few months with a proposed completion date of mid-2026, subject to consultation with the councils.