Update on Tenterfield's Water Situation

Firstly, Council wishes to thank the Tenterfield community for their diligence in abiding by the current Level 4.5 Water Restriction. 

As the drought conditions continue to strike, with history indicating little rain is likely over winter, Council is busy developing contingency plans.

Currently the Tenterfield Dam level is 35%. It’s very hard to predict how long our dam storage will last as there are a great many variables. Evaporation rates, inflows and the reduction of water quality from both the Shirley Park bore and the dam water all play a part. It is not predicted it will last longer than 12 months though, and it may prove to be far less.

The Shirley Park Bore, which tops the Dam up, remains operational on a 2 days on, 2 days off cycle, supplementing supply at the rate of 600,000 litres per day.  These rest periods ensure the bore can keep producing for a longer period of time as this water is critical to maintain water quality in the Dam. If the bore water quality diminishes or the quantity substantially drops and the bore is required to be turned off, the topping up of the Dam will cease. We will then be 100% reliant on rainfall within the Dam catchment. This is extremely worrying, especially if it aligns with the type of heat wave we had earlier in January of 2019, when the evaporation rates accelerated.

Having a ‘Plan B’ is therefore critical. Council is currently developing plans to investigate alternate bore locations for both potable supply (mains water) and stock supply (to reduce mains water usage). 

One such plan, which would reduce the amount of potable (mains supplied) drinking water being used, was to allow those people with stock in town to access alternative (non-mains) water. This was going to be achieved by supplying water from an old and unused ‘exploration bore’ at Apex Park (southern end of Tenterfield on the New England Highway).

Apex Park Bore’s yield is quite low, and the quality is only acceptable for stock use. But as there are so many people with stock – horses, cattle and sheep - currently using potable water inside the town reticulation system it is estimated that the quantity of water used from the mains supply would decrease about 2-3% per month. Although only a small reduction, every saving helps

The commissioning of the Apex Park Bore to assist the reduction and reliance on the potable water supply by providing water for small acreage stock needs has been extremely problematic and frustrating with refusal by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) to allow non-potable water to be pumped from this bore.

Residents will be aware that the infrastructure to provide water from this very low yield supply has been in place for some time. But to use it requires Council to gain approval from NRAR. 

Unfortunately, it appears that NRAR had no intention of allowing this bore to operate; sitting on our application for 2 months. Information that our application would be refused was only provided to Council through a third party after advocacy on our behalf by the Coordinator-General for Drought and the Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery, Major General Stephen Day. This is extremely disconcerting.

Faced with a growing level of frustration and concerns, Mayor Peter Petty and Chief Executive Terry Dodds travelled to Sydney last week to meet with the responsible Government Minister, The Hon Melinda Pavey MP, seeking urgent intervention to avoid a situation which would be catastrophic to the Tenterfield community.

The topics discussed were the timeliness of solutions, bureaucratic ‘red tape’, how the investigations and physical infrastructure can be funded, and the fast tracking of the approval process.

As a result of the meeting, Mr James McTavish, Cross Border Commissioner and Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator, has facilitated a meeting in Tenterfield with representatives from the Department of Industry-Water (DOI-Water), Council staff, Mayor Peter Petty, and himself on the 4th of June, to discuss a funding mechanism for emergency explorations, expedited approval pathways, and a timeline for delivery – which will ensure those responsible are held to account.  

It should be noted that other nearby communities, such as Guyra, are also facing a water crisis in the immediate future and are having to navigate a similar difficult and frustrating path. This would be placing much pressure on DOI-Water, as along with Guyra and Tenterfield, there are about 38 other towns looking to develop or deliver their own Plan B’s.

At this meeting Mayor Petty invited the Minister to visit Tenterfield to gain a better understanding of the impact the looming water crisis is having on local business and on the people themselves.

At a recent meeting at Warwick of the Border Region Organisation of Councils (of which Tenterfield is a member) it was noted that Southern Downs Regional Council have declared their water situation as a natural disaster and hope to attract funding for assistance in this manner as their current water restrictions allow only 120 litres of water per person per day.

A discussion with the Minister indicated that an emergency declaration for Tenterfield has proven in other areas to give the impression that the town is “closed for business” and there is a risk that tourists may misinterpret that type of instrument being applied.

“Tenterfield will never be closed for business, but we understand the Minister’s concerns regarding that proposed tactic. But the suggestion did hit home to the Minister that it is a dire situation we face and timeliness in a response to implement a Plan B is critical. If we need to cart water in by trucks we’re looking at 1,150 per month. That’s to be avoided at all costs”, said Mayor Peter Petty.

“Please be assured that our Chief Executive, Terry Dodds, our Chief Operating Officer, Andre Kompler, our water specialists, and Council are all working extremely hard behind the scenes to find an option that will work for us not only to solve our water crisis now but to ensure water sustainability into the future”, Mayor Petty added.

“I urge patience and a continuation of your diligence to assist our whole community at this time.  Most of all though, I urge the heavens to open and good rainfall to bless our water catchments”, the Mayor concluded.