Worst ever Glen Innes drought as town marks 146 days on water restrictions

Keith Appleby.

Keith Appleby.

Glen Innes is officially facing the worst ever drought in its history, with the town last week marking its longest time on water restrictions ever.

The towns two sources of water have around ten months' left, and hopes of avoiding level four restrictions are pinned on a new $250,000 bore.

As of September 4, Glen Innes has spent 146 days on restrictions. That's the longest on record according to Director of Infrastructure Services Keith Appleby.

He said residents are using far more water than in previous droughts, with current consumption at around 1.9 megalitres per day around half a megalitre more than the town consumed in the 2014 drought.

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"We're not really sure why the consumption has increased but I suspect that we're a bit of a victim of our own success in that the town has started to feel that we've got a secure water supply and so people have got in the habit of using more water.

"The consumption over last summer was 50 per cent more than in any quarter previously.

"It's really been quite a change in community attitude towards consumption."

Mr Appleby said it was time to start seriously considering cutting back on water use on an individual level, even beyond the limitations imposed by level three water restrictions.

"We have a very secure water supply and there's no problem with using that until you get to a point when you need to rein it in again. We've been operating up till now in a position of excellent security," he said.

"Now we're getting to the point where we're starting to look at (needing) to start tightening our belt.

"For Glen Innes to go over 10 months without significant rainfall is in itself an extreme event. We're way off the scale in terms of anything that's happened before."

The Glen Innes Severn Council is "pinning our hopes" on a new bore to be installed on September 23. Mr Appleby says he's confident the $250,000 bore will pay off, but if not the town will almost certainly hit level four restrictions.

If the bore does go through, he said, Glen should be permanently water self-sufficient at restriction levels.

Water loss

As of August 2019 the weir is 25% full and the ponds have dropped to 63%. In May, the Eerindii ponds were at 75% and 100% capacity.

So where did all the water go?

Keith Appleby says there's no one answer.

Some of the apparent decline is late reporting of data.

Some was greater than expected consumption by people drinking, showering and watering their gardens.

Some came from "network leaks" particularly from ancient pre-WW2 water tanks the council are repairing. Council staff constantly search for leaks in the water system but have yet to find a seriously major one.

Keith Appleby also said a small leak in the Eerindii ponds has had very little effect on wastage. The dam leaked through the the 2014 drought for 18 months with a loss of just 4 megalitres' water, around two days' consumption.

"What we've actually done now is just put a little pump in the dam so that we can pump that water back in, but it's actually a very limited amount of water " he said.

"(Leaks from the Eerindii ponds) look bad; any leak looks bad, but the volume of water that we're actually losing is limited."

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Bottom line

All drought management plans are a balancing act between on the one hand providing the optimum service to the community for the longest time against on the other running out of water before drought breaks.

Has the council has got the balance right?

Keith Appleby thinks so.

"I think if we'd gone to restrictions earlier this time around we would have been strongly criticised - when we've got such a good supply why aren't we (off restrictions)?"

Councils are required to develop and follow a drought management plan that would see the community safe through a 1000 year drought, and would ride out a 120 year drought without severe restrictions.

And when the drought breaks the council will assess the performance of its drought management plan. As part of that this new worst ever drought will be established as the new benchmark.

"Given how bad this drought has been compared to anything else before we're really in a fantastic situation."

The bottom line:

"Had we not got the Eerindii ponds in play, Glen Innes would have been fully out of water - dry - back in May.

"We would have been trucking water from outside the local government area."