By CAITLIN CROWLEY
A SUDDEN surge in water usage in some of Toowoomba region’s fastest growing suburbs has highlighted vulnerabilities in the local water supply network and served as a cautionary tale for other Queensland local governments ahead of what’s forecast to be a hotter and drier than average summer.
Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) was left scrambling last weekend when water use in Highfields, Kleinton, Cabarlah and Meringandan exceeded what could be delivered to local reservoirs, skyrocketing to around 306 litres per person per day on average, when the target under low level water restrictions is just 200 litres.
Water portfolio councillors Rebecca Vonhoff and Nancy Sommerfield issued urgent warnings on social media, asking residents to immediately conserve water with the very real risk taps could run dry.
“I think that this past weekend was a moment of serious pause for Council and residents because we probably hadn’t been keeping as close an eye on that average water use,” Rebecca Vonhoff told the Caller.
“On Sunday we came really really close to a lot of people having a loss of pressure when they turned on their tap and we saw people in four streets, actually for around an hour, lose water.’
Council staff have spent the week conducting repairs to pumps which were left damaged by the sudden spike in demand – something Vonhoff said came as a surprise.
“So the questions then have to be, how is our planning of our water network keeping pace with our population expanding,” she said.
“We’ve been so focused on trying to get another water supply – working with the state government to get another dam, increasing how much water we can take from Wivenhoe.
“We also need to make sure that the actual network, the existing network, can accommodate our residents and even when there is a spike in use, that it can absorb that spike.
“I hope it’s clear the seriousness with which we are treating this.”
Last weekend’s high demand was put down to residents watering gardens, recently laid turf and filling swimming pools ahead of summer.
With temperatures forecast to soar into the low to mid thirties in Toowoomba over the next week, Council is urging people to keep their water use down, particularly during the evening peak demand period of 4pm – 9pm.
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“We need residents in the Highfields, Kleinton, Cabarlah and Meringandan areas to remember that there is a target of 200 litres per person per day for water usage,” Rebecca Vonhoff said.
“In the short-term, Council has maximised flow rates to the Borghardt Road reservoir through a valve at Lawrence Road in an effort to replenish the reservoir quicker.
“In the long-term, construction of a dedicated trunk main from the Mt Kynoch Water Treatment Plant to the Borghardt Road reservoir is underway with completion scheduled for mid to late 2024. This trunk main will help resolve the current network capacity issues being experienced.
“We also recognise that the area of Highfields is one of the fastest growing parts of our region and the eventual construction of an additional reservoir for the area in the longer term will provide additional storage capacity and resilience in future.”
When asked whether Toowoomba’s water scare was something other Queensland councils could learn from, Vonhoff cautioned that water infrastructure was a huge and costly issue facing all levels of government.
“I think that water security for as long as I can remember, has really been consigned to being an issue of rural and regional Queensland and it’s not,” she said.
“This is an issue that is coming really quickly at local governments and the state government across Queensland.
“We talk about this ‘infrastructure cliff’ and we know that we’ve got ageing infrastructure.
“It’s not just Toowoomba Regional Council – that’s not just even Queensland local governments – that’s local governments Australia-wide.
“It’s infrastructure that is mostly under the ground, you can’t see it but it is ageing infrastructure and we are approaching this infrastructure cliff which is going to cost an extraordinarily large amount of money to meet.”
The $2.6 billion Urban Water Risk Assessment Project which was announced in the state government’s June budget was designed to help state and local governments plan for the future and decide where to prioritise efforts, particularly across regional and remote communities.
The Palaszczuk Government also launched its new Queensland Water Strategy this week, which it said was a blueprint for future water planning.
“The Queensland Water Strategy enables us to come together to look at the longer-term issues that we need to prepare for,” water minister Glenn Butcher (pictured left) said.
“We are in lock-step with our Councils when it comes to delivering infrastructure that Queensland communities need.”