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Election brings Townsville water security into focus

With the Queensland election set for 25 November, the Water For Townsville Action Group (WFTAG) is calling for a renewed commitment from all sides of politics to fund and solve the city’s longstanding water security issues.

WFTAG Convenor Dr Linda Ashton said the short-term solution to the town’s water security concerns has been designed, but action on the plans are now long overdue.

“Our dry tropics location and drought cycles mean rain is sparse. We have reached a predicted population where our primary water supply – the shallow Ross River dam, currently at 15% – can no longer supply our daily consumption needs,” she said.

“The original Burdekin pipeline now 30 years old, is narrow and very costly to run. With only one energy supplier, the profit margin means it’s $34,000 per day for council to pump when the dam is below 15%.

“The pumps will be turned on in early November until sufficient rain arrives.”

Ashton said her non-partisan, volunteer community group was established in response to the Mayor’s public statement, ‘Townsville does not have a water problem. It has a water consumption problem’. But the city had been, and still is, on harsh restrictions.

WFTAG, which now has 14,000 Facebook members, has for the past eleven months been actively researching the problems and has produced an extensive report with clear recommendations.

“In less than three months, our dedicated, volunteer part-time technical team researched, costed and rated 11 different infrastructure options,” Ashton said.

“It took the council two years, with full-time paid staff, to design a short pipeline and it is still not a fully approved, shovel-ready project. Our research suggests that the proposed council design would not be the best solution.”

In 2016 December, the first-ever Australian City Deal was signed for Townsville. It is a co-signed agreement for all levels of government to cooperate, prioritise and provide critical infrastructure in order to make cities more liveable and more prosperous.

Subsequently a Water Taskforce was convened for Townsville’s top priority and recommended a two-staged pipeline project. WFTAG’s technical experts shared their research with the taskforce, which informed their decision-making.

The new design includes a 36.5km pipeline following the existing Lower Burdekin Haughton pipeline to the old Haughton pump station. The supply would be fed directly by the Burdekin (Ross) Dam’s catchment

“We don’t have redundancy and a second, more efficient pipeline is essential. The city’s main treatment plant is also ageing. If that failed we’d have a three-day supply of potable water for nearly 200,000 residents. WFTAG is making a lot of noise for good reason,” she said.

Ashton said the $225 million funding promise from the state government, though welcome, is not enough to secure the town’s long-term water supply and, despite the City Deal, political bias has erupted in the lead up to the election.

“Following the announcement of the state election, there has been a raft of partisan behaviour. But in the next three weeks we will be upping the pressure on all sides of politics to come clean,” she said.

“The City Deal also insists on community partnership. We are representing the community and we have done much of the government's job. Our action group has been considered a nuisance by some, rather than an ally.”

Ashton said the WFTAG will be focusing on ensuring all sides of politics prioritises Townsville’s water security in the lead up to the election in order to solve what has now been a 30-year long problem.

“The Burdekin Dam is two-thirds the size of Victoria, five times the size of Sydney Harbour, and it’s just up the road. We want the government to read their own reports on the demographics, predicted consumption needs and just get the job done,” Ashton said.

“We believe, as the largest regional city in Queensland, that we deserve long term water security, which is a basic requirement for all other development to succeed. It needs to be their top priority.”

Access the WFTAG’s recommendations report here.

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