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Queensland government to fund Toowoomba-Warwick water pipeline, but water security concerns remain

15 June 2022

A dam wall near mountains.
The proposed pipeline will carry water from Wivenhoe Dam through Toowoomba to Warwick.(Supplied: SEQWater) 

A surprise plan to fund a long-awaited Warwick to Toowoomba pipeline is sending ripples through Queensland's Southern and Darling Downs, raising concerns it could weaken water security.

Key points:

  • The state government has committed $300 million to the Toowoomba to Warwick water pipeline
  • It will pump to Warwick and other smaller communities along the way
  • Toowoomba Regional Council is concerned the pipeline will weaken Toowoomba's water security

The Queensland government announced it would pay for the $300 million pipeline to carry water from Wivenhoe Dam in the state's south-east to Toowoomba's water network, then deliver it to Warwick and other smaller communities along the route.

"Construction of the pipeline will deliver approximately 420 jobs to the local communities as well as long-term water security, which is critical to jobs, economic growth and liveability of Queensland communities," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said this week.

Work will start in the next few months and is due to be finished by 2026.

The project was first announced when the Southern and Darling Downs were in the grip of drought in 2019, which forced the state government to fund water carting in the region.

Southern Downs mayor Vic Pennisi welcomed the pipeline funding.

"When we were in dire straits, the premier and this government in this cabinet stood shoulder to shoulder with us helping us with that water," he said.

"We're only a very small council, we have 22,000 ratepayers, so our ability to fund infrastructure projects like that is limited."

A man on his knees with his arms in the air, looking at water spilling from a dam.
Vic Pennisi welcomed the government's $300 million funding commitment.(Supplied: Southern Downs Regional Council)

What about Toowoomba?

The announcement, however, came as a surprise to the Toowoomba Regional Council, which has raised concerns about the consequences for its water security.

"That certainly means some of our capacity to provide water for the community of Toowoomba has been taken away from us," mayor Paul Antonio said.

Mr Antonio said details including the amount of water, ownership, maintenance responsibility and ongoing costs needed to be identified before the council could support the project.

"Don't forget that whilst the Southern Downs got help by the state government for carting water to Stanthorpe, we carted water to Clifton and other places during the drought and there was no assistance coming our way," he said.

"So that's a little tiny bit of a sore point."

A woman with blonde hair stands in a park, smiling.
Rebecca Vonhoff says there are a lot of questions about the Warwick pipeline. (ABC Southern Qld: Elly Bradfield)

The state government funding is also set to cover a number of pump upgrades and further water treatment plants to add to the existing system.

Toowoombe Regional Council water and waste committee chair Rebecca Vonhoff said the state government needed to provide more information quickly.

"The words 'water security' sound really fantastic, but we need to understand what their idea of water security is and is their idea of water security for Southern Downs the same idea as water security for the Toowoomba region?

"I won't pre-empt our vote, but council does need a lot of answers."

Ms Palaszczuk said if Toowoomba didn't want the pipeline, she would "find another council who does".

"I'm quite sure the community wants to have water security," she said.

"It's the biggest issue they've been raising with me and I'm delivering it."

'Shifting the issue'

South East Queensland water grid and pipelines
The proposed pipeline will run from Toowoomba to Warwick.(Supplied: Queensland Government)

Central Downs Irrigators director Lindsay Krieg said he was glad to see a different approach to water security.

"As an irrigator, it's good to see them chasing other forms of water, rather than taking water from us as they have in the past," Mr Krieg said.

"So, it's good to see that we weren't the target this time around."

Mr Krieg said he was also surprised by the government's announcement, saying the supply already struggled to meet Toowoomba's water needs, let alone Warwick's.

"We're essentially just shifting the issue as far as I see," he said.

"In the background we're (Central Downs Irrigators) involved in the regional water supply strategy."

He said it seemed counterintuitive to make a funding announcement or start a pipeline when there was already another piece of work in the background as a whole strategy.

With dams and catchments in the region now full, Mr Krieg wasn't worried about the 2026 pipeline completion date.

"But the big thing at the moment is the catchment is so wet.

"The dam is full for the first time in 10 years at Leslie Dam, so we've got allocation secure for at least the next two to three years."