We understand there is a water crisis in Queensland. A
small group of people is being asked to make a sacrifice to allow the building
of the Mary River Dam, near Gympie, so that the majority of people in the state’s south-east can have access to water.

This may be reasonable if the dam were really going to provide the extra water needed. However, there is a basic flaw in
the logic. Dams work well in cold wet
climates, but in dry arid climates the soils dry out and absorb small rains.
Run-off only occurs in major storms which occur infrequently and at random. It
is ludicrous that we should be dependent on freak storms.

Yet there is plenty of rain: just 1mm of
rain falling on a square kilometre gives a million litres of water.
Almost a million litres of rain fall for every
person per day. Even in the densely populated
Coolangatta-Bundaberg-Toowoomba coast zone there are some 50,000 litres
per person per day. But our dams only capture one in 2,000 of the
of rain that fall. That’s 0.05%.

Even in the
drought there are reasonable falls of the smaller coastal rains which could
provide the water we need. This can be harvested cheaply by storing some water in
tanks, but greater amounts can be collected in the soil using underground ponds (wicking beds,
percolation holes, etc, as illustrated on my website).

The water shortage is not caused by some
unexpected drought but by a dysfunctional water bureaucracy, which has been
asleep while all the symptoms of an impending crisis were obvious, then has panicked
itself into an ill thought out repetition of a system that has already failed.

There is a great financial incentive for
the water bureaucracy to hang onto its privileged monopoly position as sole
water supplier. Peter Beattie cannot be
expected to have detailed expertise on water; he is manipulated by the water

The government needs to set up an organisation outside the
traditional water bureaucracy which has so demonstrably failed. This organisation should set up
micro-harvesting schemes that take advantage of the small but reliable coastal
rains, thus providing a reliable source of water that does not depend on freak
natural events.

Then we would not need the Mary River dam, we
could have green gardens and cut down the amount we spend on water.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey