Dam levels across north Queensland have fallen to the lowest levels in a decade, prompting one northern council to revert to pumping.
Man-made Tinaroo Dam on the Atherton Tablelands is at 38.7 per cent capacity, its lowest in 11 years.
The region’s water woes go deeper in Townsville, with the city council announcing it will start pumping from Burdekin Dam this week, as Ross Dam drops to the 15 pc trigger point. Water restrictions remain at level three.
Tinaroo Dam feeds the Mareeba Dimbulah Irrigation Area, a web of channels which provides water to more than 1080 irrigators comprising largely of cane and horticulture growers, along with urban supplies to some Tableland towns.
The announced water allocation is 75 pc for the 2016/17 water year – the first time its dropped below 90 pc in many years.
With the storm season only just beginning, irrigators have a nervous wait.
Joe Moro, chair of the Mareeba and District Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said concern over falling dam levels was spreading throughout the community.
“It’s not surprising as the dam starts to go down it’s very much obvious we need some rain,” Mr Moro said.
“A lot of people are concerned and now we are starting to see that within the community as well and the possible impact that may have into the following year.
“The position most of industry has taken is that there is no point in having a little bit of water next year; we are better to have a good water year when you have opportunity to do so.
“There is a lot of investment in industry so the only thing we can benefit from is a decent wet season to solve the problem for the following year.”
Mr Moro said the dam level needed to be around 75 pc.
Townsville last pumped from Burdekin Dam in 2006, triggered by Ross Dam dropping to five pc capacity.
It continued for a year and this time round, the council is being proactive.
“Townsville is in the grips of the deepest drought since the mid 1990s when the city pumped from the Burdekin for almost a year,” Mayor Jenny Hill said.
“We’re a different city today and the sensible approach is to pump sooner to give us greater protection against another failed wet season.”
Pumping costs $27,000 a day.
Mr Moro said while rain was critical to boost the level of Tinaroo Dam, where it fell was equally as important.
“If there is a similar rain pattern to last year when we got rain but it didn’t fall in the catchment it will be a disaster,” Mr Moro said. “It’s very difficult to say what the weather forecast will be.”