RESIDENTS in southeast Queensland will be urged to cut back on their water consumption for the first time in almost a decade as the long hot summer reduces dam levels.
A series of water-saving tips will be issued by SEQwater chiefs this month as a review of the region's water security program and drought-readiness plan is completed.
It will be the first time that formal advice on cutting consumption has been issued since the Millennium Drought between 2001 and 2009.
As a result of the crisis dam levels plunged to 20 per cent, prompting severe water restrictions and the construction of the $6 billion water grid infrastructure, including a desalination plant.
SEQwater says mandatory restrictions are still a long way off and will not need to be considered for at least a year.
"The advice on current projections is that we are at least one wet season from restrictions,'' spokesman Mike Foster said.
But with the state having just recorded its hottest summer on record and the weather bureau predicting drier-than-average conditions continuing through autumn, it was timely to encourage people to think about how they could be more water wise.
"The water grid is being used to maintain supplies across the region, but anything individuals can do to lower consumption and assist in conserving water will be beneficial,'' Mr Foster said.
Water Minister Mark Bailey said: "We are not in dire straits yet, but Queenslanders are always encouraged to use water wisely.''
The combined water level in the 12 southeast Queensland dams which feed into the water supply has fallen from 85.1 per cent to 70.9 per cent over the past year.
It is the lowest level recorded since the 67 per cent in January 2010.
Some are even lower, with Wivenhoe Dam - Brisbane's main source of drinking water - now at 68.6 per cent, North Pine Dam which supplies Moreton Bay at 51.5 per cent, and the Sunshine Coast's major source, Baroon Pocket Dam, at 45.2 per cent.
Since early February, water from North Pine has been pumped to Baroon Pocket to ease some pressure on the Coast's supply. In turn, additional water from the Mount Crosby water treatment plant - sourced from Lake Wivenhoe - has been used to supplement North Pine.
"It's fair to say the Sunshine Coast has been particularly impacted by the hot conditions this summer," Mr Foster said. "We will continue to move water north until we see some decent rainfall.''
The severe storms across parts of southeast Queensland earlier this week added about 0.5 per cent to dam levels - about 12 days of additional supply. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting the chance of some rain this weekend but it is unlikely to make much, if any, difference.
Before the 2001-09 drought - the region's worst in 100 years - the average water consumption was 300 litres per person per day. That was slashed to 140 litres during the crisis - the lowest rate for a developed country.
An expected jump in use once restrictions were lifted did not eventuate, with average consumption remaining at about 160 to 180 litres per person, due in part to the widespread installation and retrofitting of dual-flush toilets, water-saving showerheads and other devices.
This summer's sweltering and drier-than-normal conditions have pushed up average water usage by 20 litres per person across the region to 199 litres a day, with the Gold Coast hitting 233 litres.
The current review will also decide what dam levels should trigger mandatory water restrictions in future.
Currently, those set during the drought still apply, with garden watering times introduced and use of recycled water when dam levels dip below 40 per cent, watering limited to three days a week at 35 per cent, and bucket watering only at 30 per cent.
Mr Foster said the flexibility provided by the water grid infrastructure meant the region was better placed to manage water shortages.
"The review now being finalised will look at whether the 40 per cent trigger is still an appropriate level and how we can avoid really severe restrictions and the need for further infrastructure,'' he said.
In Townsville, where the Ross River Dam is at 17 per cent of capacity, residents are under level 3 restrictions which means a ban on sprinkler systems, and handheld hose use just two days a week.
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