Drought support dries up, despite demand
DROUGHT support is drying up as the Southern Downs enters its third consecutive year of “the worst drought on record”, with more than $2.6 million in drought assistance to be axed from the council capital works budget in the 2020-21 financial year.
According to the Southern Downs Regional Council draft budget, the State Government emergency water supply and the drought communities grant will soon come to an end.
The needs of Southern Downs residents, however, are as pertinent as ever, according to director of Granite Belt Drought Assist Glenda Riley.
“The drought is nowhere near over,” Ms Riley said.
“We’re giving away a lot of drinking water at the moment and people are grateful because their tanks are almost empty.
“We got a little reprieve from rain in February but people are still anxious, still wondering what’s going to happen.”
The region received 286mm of rain since the start of 2020, but the vast majority of it fell in the first couple of months.
Since then, monthly totals have been as little as 4mm.
The state government will continue to cover the cost of carting to Stanthorpe until Storm King Dam has over six months of supply, but the decrease in government funds mirrors a withdrawal in water donations since the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
“We haven’t received any significant donations for weeks, maybe even months now,” Ms Riley said.
“Covid has taken over the headlines and it certainly has had an impact on the focus of drought.
“Some of our farmers are getting very frustrated, because Covid hasn’t changed what they’re dealing with. If anything, it’s made it worse.”
Resident Kerri-Ann Conway said donations from organisations such as GBDA were a “godsend”.
“My tanks are both almost empty,” she said.
Ms Riley said drought conditions were just as bad as they were before the February rain and the collective stress had returned in full force.
At the same time, donations to local charities had slowed to a trickle, so water donation organisations were loathe to call on them for assistance.
“Everyone is in the same boat, so we’re not chasing up the charities,” she said.
The prospect of supplying water to the parched community, despite all the new hurdles, required greater “creative thinking”, according to Ms Riley.
“If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we have to be prepared to think outside of the box to figure out how to help people,” she said.
The Daily News reached out to Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi for comment but did not receive a response in time for print.