Opinion: Council playing into govt's hands on water security
On 18/11/20, The Chronicle reported (P. 7) the council's (controversial?) resolution to lead the charge to lobby the Federal Government to fund a multimillion-dollar feasibility study into the wider region's water security.
In the past few days, it has also been announced that the Palaszczuk government has allocated $3 million for a regional water assessment study for the Darling Downs, Southern Downs and surrounding areas, and that the Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, will drive the process.
So to the layperson, it's hard to decide just who's committed to what at the moment.
Needless to say however, the state government has "skin in the game".
But I would suggest Toowoomba Regional Council needs to be very, very careful it's not playing right into the state government's hands over this.
Because as far as I am aware, Toowoomba is the only council presently permitted to take water from Wivenhoe but is not (yet) officially part of the S.E. Queensland Water Grid.
To fully understand the situation, let's recap the history.
Premier Beattie's "pipe dream" (pun intended) of an integrated, interlinked water grid for SEQ was conceived early in the new millennium in the grip of ongoing low rainfall and burgeoning population development, and had a similar objective to the current push: i.e. to identify and better utilise the region's available water, including the integration of recycled waste water.
The Beattie government rapidly established the SEQ Water Grid and placed it under the control of the SEQ Water Authority (which has since undergone several iterations and name changes, while the overall concept has remained unchanged).
Under the new arrangements, all councils within the SEQWG surrendered their raw water systems to the state's responsibility, and were then compelled to purchase their raw water "at the gate" of their treatment facilities, leaving them only to treat and distribute the water to their ratepayers.
For many years before amalgamation, Toowoomba (City Council) had been loudly proclaiming it would never surrender its raw water dams and pipelines. It wanted to remain independent. (Note: TCC's Water Futures proposal - to recycle some of the waste water - would have gone a long way towards achieving that objective. But that's another story.)
Later however, courtesy of the ongoing drought and serious depletion of the council dams, the construction of the Wivenhoe pipeline ensured Toowoomba became uniquely and irrevocably locked into the grid concept.
So how does this carry over to the present situation?
Well, I think there is an inherent danger in the push for a "Downs" water feasibility study because the area concerned abuts TRC, and there's already been murmurings from the higher echelons of TRC about extending the Wivenhoe pipeline further south almost as a gesture of largesse to the neighbours. Doubtless this idea will be part of the new study.
But if this were ever to be done, the control of who takes what and the associated sharing of pumping costs along an extended pipeline would be a nightmare that would be neatly solved by the state making Wivenhoe and all downstream raw water pipelines and systems a state responsibility, and one that would most easily be achieved by expanding the SEQWG to include TRC and councils to the south.
One must therefore ask: Does all this emphasis on source water management offer the present state Labor government (whose tenure for the duration of the study is ensured by the new fixed term incumbency, as is council's) an opportunity to pick up the former Labor state government's unfinished business but in a vastly expanded way, while snubbing its nose at the (LNP) feds?
On the plus side, if this were to be the preferred outcome of the study, one presumes the state government would have to purchase the dams and pipelines which would mean an injection of many hundred of millions of dollars into council's coffers. One then wonders if the present council would be able to resist the temptation of making a considerable buck while flick passing a significant and ongoing problem to the state.
I guess time will tell.
There are many facets to these recent "water study" calls, so when the unpalatable issues - and there will be some - start to emerge, don't say you weren't warned.
TONY LAKE, Meringandan West
Originally published as Opinion: Council playing into State Government's hands over water security