Brisbane could become the first capital city to wear harsh level-five water restrictions, which include a total ban on outdoor watering. Queensland Water Commission chairwoman Elizabeth Nosworthy said it was "almost inevitable" that level-four restrictions would be introduced in southeast Queensland at the end of next month. And if this summer is as dry as the last, when little rain fell in catchments, level-five restrictions could be introduced as early as next March.
Australia's capital cities have to date been able to avoid the level-five restrictions that have been imposed in regional centres such as Toowoomba in Queensland and Goulburn in NSW. Although water is a central issue in the Queensland election campaign, the Beattie Government has been tight-lipped about the forced water conservation measures, including the level-four restrictions set to be introduced after the poll this weekend.
Under level four, residents face mandatory swimming pool covers and a further crackdown on garden watering. At the same time, businesses will be forced to install water-saving devices, such as waterless urinals and water limiters on taps.
Ms Nosworthy said businesses would have to do much more to save water, but she indicated that the 180,000 swimming pool owners in southeast Queensland would be the main residential targets under level-four restrictions. She said 11 million litres of water were wasted every day through pool evaporation and mandatory covers were under consideration. "Pools is an issue that we really have to deal with," Ms Nosworthy told The Australian. "People in the community without pools would expect people with pools to be taking responsibility for doing the right thing." Industry sources put the average cost of a backyard pool cover at $500, with another $500 for a roller to operate it, but the state Government has promised rebates. Ms Nosworthy said level-four restrictions had not been finalised and proposals would be discussed with local councils at a meeting on September 11 - two days after the election.
Residents of Brisbane and other southeast Queensland centres were banned from using hoses under level-three restrictions earlier this year, with only buckets and watering cans being permitted for outdoor watering. Ms Nosworthy said that while buckets could now be used at any time, their use could be restricted under level-four rules to late afternoons and nights. She said restrictions might need to be phased in over time if, for instance, retail outlets did not have sufficient supplies of pool covers. It was unlikely residents would ever be able to again water gardens freely. "I think those days are over," Ms Nosworthy said.
Hawkins Home Garden Living Centres owner John Hawkins said more than 40 plant nurseries in southeast Queensland had been forced to close because of water restrictions, with the loss of 1000 jobs. He said the industry might not be able to withstand the impact of further restrictions. "Level five would wipe us out altogether," he said. Premier Peter Beattie has denied he called an early election to avoid community anger at level-four restrictions.
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