Water Security and Resilience Forum

Community Water Forum 

Is Our Water Supply safe?

On a cool evening on Thursday August 13, a group of local landholders and town residents assembled to share their vision for a new Gympie in relation to water supply and security. ‘Water security and resilience in Gympie and Queensland’ was convened by Greens candidate, Lauren Grainger-Brown, who was delighted with the turn-out of interested stakeholders. The meeting was also broadcast to a virtual audience.

Community interest in the issue was obvious, with the maximum numbers permitted to be together in the room at the Australian Institute for Country Music reached. This gracious older building has had a varied history and was the ideal venue for interested community members to hear from four expert speakers and pose their questions.

Peter Waterman, applied geographer and environmental planner, shared his experience with remote and rural communities. He stressed the point that large dams do not provide water security and advocated small decentralised reservoirs or cisterns which are more resilient during climate change and supply chain disruption. This was a lesson learned a decade ago by Mary river supporters when the Traveston Crossing Dam proposal was vigorously opposed by local organisations and individuals.

Susie Chapman outlined campaigns by grassroots groups over a number of years to prevent various unsustainable plans for water storage. Quoting the work of Jennifer Simpson, she advocated “fit for use” solutions, as not all water needs to be drinking water quality. For car washing, crop irrigation and such purposes lesser standard of treatment is sufficient. She also reassured listeners in response to a question from the floor, that current treatment systems can effectively remove medication residues, hormones and P-FAS (fire retardant) contamination from drinking water.

Glenda Pickersgill, for the Save the Mary River Coordining Group has lived in the Mary Valley since childhood and has extensive knowledge of the river and its wildlife. Glenda spoke about the  Mary Basin Water Resource Plan last revised in 2006 and its flaws when it was used to justify the Traveston Crossing Dam proposal. The plan revision due in 2016 was delayed by the Minister so more research could be done on environmental flows. Now  due in September 2021 we are concerned that there has been no community involvement and  options in the Seqwater  water security program 2016-2046 Water for Life ver 2  being considered to take more water from the Mary River in the Gympie Region. With historical data showing higher risk of hotter conditions and less stream flows taking more water from the river  would place our endangered species at higher risk of being lost.  Not only that there is the whole river function to provide fresh water to the sea to protect the internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands,  the Great Sandy Straits.

With  version 3 of the Seqwater Water for Life due in 2022 it is important that the Mary Catment community has an input into both these planning instruments so money is spent on the best options for water security and resilience. “Over the next two years is our window of opportunity and we must insist on a robust consultation process,” she told the audience.

The fourth speaker, Ian Mackay, is a dedicated river spokesman and is currently chairman of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC).  He chronicled the more efficient use of water as evidenced by the reduced water consumption figures, from 530 litres per person per day back in 1994, to a current level of just 172 litres per person per day, as he called it, “making our water go further”.

He also pointed out that, although the Traveston Crossing Dam did not proceed, the Sunshine Coast nonetheless draws almost all its water from the Mary system, either from Baroon Pocket Dam (on Obi Obi Creek, a major tributary of the Mary),  from Lake Macdonald on Six Mile Creek, or directly from the Mary at Goomong.

All speakers commented  positively that individual water use by Queenslanders has been reduced by public education campaigns, water metering, water efficient appliances like dual flush toilets and remains currently only at about one third of the average daily usage before the “millennium” drought.

Ian concluded by stressing that there is a suite of viable solutions to future water security, all of which play a role, and that putting all your eggs in the one basket of “more dams” is not the wisest option for consistent, reliable, resilient water security.

Overall the expert speakers painted a clear picture of actions residents can take in the region to secure the safety and security of its water, including insisting on having a say in the consultation process and advocating for decentralised water catchments, treated re-use for purpose and landscape rehydration strategies.  All are needed in combination to reduce pressure on our beautiful Mary River and its tributaries.

Click on the link to watch Ian Mackay’s presentation at the forum