Hot, dry and empty: Fairbairn hits record low

The last time the Fairbairn Dam was at today’s levels, Gough Whitlam was serving his first year as Prime ­Minister and the blocks of the dam wall were still being laid.

The crucial Central ­Highlands water source has recently hit its lowest level since it was built in 1972.

The dam currently sits at 11.5 per cent (148,589 ­megalitres), down almost five per cent since late September.

The provider, Sunwater said it was undertaking a range of measures to ­maximise water availability from Fairbairn Dam.

It includes a ‘low-level’ pumping strategy and work at pumping sites to continue to supply water to all users.

Surveys to accurately ­determine remaining volume have also been undertaken.

A Sunwater spokesman said the company was ­working closely with our ­customers to deliver water, minimises loss and maximises availability.

Sunwater announced in July 2019 that 75,000ML of carry-over water was to be made available at the start of the water year.

Carry-over allows users to transfer unused allocation water from one water year into the next.

Sunwater said it was ­meeting with irrigators, ­Central Highlands Regional Council and mining industry representatives to keep them updated of the situation.

Water restrictions, ­however, remain a matter for the Central Highlands ­Council and Emerald, Blackwater and Bluff have all been on level one water restrictions since March 27.

Despite water restriction procedure stating 12 per cent as the trigger level for greater restrictions, CHRC Mayor Kerry Hayes said the water storage levels for Fairbairn Dam was only one of the factors council considered.

Fairbairn Dam overflowing in December 2010. Photographer: Jodie Richter.
Fairbairn Dam overflowing in December 2010. Photographer: Jodie Richter.

Existing water conservation was another.

“Emerald, Blackwater and Bluff have excelled at water conservation to date and have used less water than the current level 1 water restriction target,” Cr Hayes said.

“We have also achieved a 35 per cent saving in our parks and gardens through a prioritised irrigation program.”

Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes
Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor Kerry Hayes

Cr Hayes said council was considering level two restrictions in early 2020.

“We are all hoping for rain, but we will have to see what the season brings,” he said.

It is not only the water ­infrastructure to the east feeling the pinch of the sustained dry.

Mount Morgan’s No. 7 Dam is at 32 per cent with the township already on level two water restrictions.

A Rockhampton Regional Council spokeswoman said another level of restrictions would be considered by council if the levels dropped below 30 per cent.

Residents are restricted from watering their gardens or lawns between 9am and 4pm.

“The purpose of implementing level two water restrictions is to ensure that with warmer weather no arriving that all efforts continue to be made to use water wisely and ensure that the remaining supply in No. 7 Dam lasts as long as possible,” a letter to residents said.

The Rockhampton ­Barrage is currently at a “healthy” 88 per cent capacity.

Last week, the Bureau of Meteorology released its 2019/20 Summer Outlook and the forecast for Central Queensland was grim.

The barrage on the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton's city centre
The barrage on the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton's city centre

For much of Central Queensland, falls above the median rainfall (86mm) for December were “highly unlikely.”

So too is it expected to be a hotter summer than usual with the entire Capricornia region 80 per cent likely to exceed the median December maximum.


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