State at mercy of drought’s relentless march
THE drought is creeping eastward toward the central Queensland coast, as shires prepare to move into drought status unless spring rains arrive.
While the state's southwest is bearing the brunt of the dry weather, pockets of the central west stretching from Boulia through Longreach and east to Clermont, 290km southwest of Mackay, have not seen decent rains for more than five years.
The sprawling Isaac Shire, covering nearly 59,000sq km west of Mackay, is now 90 per cent drought-declared, but will become full-blown drought-declared if spring or early summer rains don't eventuate.
State Member for Mirani Stephen Andrew, whose electorate takes in the mining hinterland behind Mackay and Rockhampton, has called for the creation of a state-backed consultative committee to formulate ways of tackling drought before it hit.
"We are tired of just waiting for these things to hit and then trying to do something about it,'' Mr Andrew said yesterday during a tour of his electorate.
"There are so many practical things we could do.
"Just one simple idea is getting sugar mills throughout this region to stock pile molasses (a sugarcane by-product used as stock feed) and get it out there in drought years.''
Gregory Austen, an Isaac Shire councillor who has a cattle property outside Clermont, said the situation was not as critical as it had become in New South Wales.
"Up here it is either wet or it is dry,'' Cr Austen said, referring to the monsoonal nature of the region.
"But our problem is we did not really have a good wet season last year.
"Where I am we had about four inches (100mm) when we should have had around 16 inches (400mm) over the wet season.
"If we don't get a good wet this year we are going to be in real trouble.''
At Emerald, the administrative centre of the neighbouring Central Highlands Shire, Mayor Kerry Hayes said the situation was similar, with pockets of the shire in serious drought while the official status of the shire remained drought-free.
"Parts of the Central Highlands are very dry, but if we don't get a break in spring or early summer we are in a world of trouble,'' Cr Hayes said.
The massive Fairbairn Dam, which has provided a buffer from drought since it opened in 1972, as we well as fuelling an agricultural expansion across the district, is now at 21.8 per cent capacity.
But with a full capacity of around 1.3 million megalitres, it's not panic stations yet for the region's horticultural farmers.
"But again, if we don't get those inflows by January we could be in a serious situation with the dam,'' Cr Hayes said.