Clean drinking water from the tap is a basic amenity not afforded to the small drought-affected community of Dulacca on Queensland’s Western Downs.
- The town of Dulacca, about 380km from Brisbane, has fought for clean water for a decade
- More than half the towns on the Western Downs rely on rainwater for drinking
- The council says some communities are too small and potable water is too expensive
Instead, its water scheme supplies untreated water from a saline bore or turbid creek to the town’s 200 residents.
“We’re like the forgotten town,” resident Cherelle Manuel said.
On some days the water tastes muddy. On others it smells like “cat pee” and sulphur, she said.
‘Forgotten’ small towns
Ms Manuel relies on what little rainwater falls on the roof and she rations it so tightly she cannot even bathe in clean water.
More than half of Western Downs Regional Council towns do not have access to a potable water scheme.
Dulacca Hotel owner and Progress Association president Natalie Scotney said her community had asked the council for clean water since 2009.
“There is an enormous number of towns in the shire that don’t have potable water supply, and it’s not good enough,” she said.
The most recent petition to the council prompted an investigation into alternative water supplies for towns with non-potable schemes.
The report concluded potable water supply options for small communities such as Dulacca were too expensive.
It estimated a desalination plant at the local bore would cost an initial $1.5 million and carting water from the nearby town of Miles would cost nearly $350,000 a year.
Rainwater the viable option
Council last week voted to accept the report and its finding that rainwater tanks were the only viable option for these small townships.
“With such a small number of people connected to the water out there it would end up costing more for the region than what these people realise, and they would also be hit up for additional costs,” councillor and utilities spokesperson Peter Saxelby said.
Instead, the council has expanded an existing subsidy for rainwater tanks by offering a $2,000 rebate on tanks with more than 40,000 litres of capacity.
According to the council, the scheme added 3.2 million litres of additional water supply to the region in the last financial year.
Residents running low on space and money for more rainwater tanks call the subsidy a “bandaid” fix for a big problem.
“A lot of us have got small properties and we’ve already got our rainwater tanks up, and a lot of people here are renters,” Ms Manuel said.
“I can’t see the landlords doing it because they get nothing for their houses as it is.”
The region’s persistent drought also makes reliance on rainwater impractical.
“It doesn’t rain very often, so the community members have to buy water in when they run out,” Ms Scotney said.
Shifting priorities to water
Western Downs Regional Council is also not exactly strapped for cash, forecasting a total surplus of nearly $1.8 million by next financial year.
It is also investing $16 million in the “long-term viability” of the water supply in its most populous town of Dalby and spending $19.8 million on parks and open spaces to boost “liveability”.
The council’s approach to small-town water schemes differs from neighbouring Maranoa Regional Council where many small towns have access to potable water.
“It needs to be looked at for the Western Downs region as a whole, and look at the communities that don’t have potable water and come up with a long-term solution to fix that,” Ms Scotney said.
Ms Scotney said the situation was a particular impost on businesses, and small communities would struggle to grow until clean water was readily available.
The state government recently made $70 million available for priority water and sewerage infrastructure and planning projects in regional shires as part of its Building Our Regions program.