Drought-declared Toowoomba Regional Council has concerns that the Inland Rail project will jeopardise its water security by using up potable water for construction and breaching an aquifer.
- Toowoomba Regional Council is concerned the Inland Rail project will threaten local water security
- A proposed tunnel through the Toowoomba Range may drain 1,700 megalitres of groundwater from aquifers
- The council does not want construction to begin later this year until an Environmental Impact Statement is finalised
“A tunnel through the Toowoomba Range may breach and potentially drain an aquifer which is used to source town water,” Toowoomba mayor Paul Antonio said.
Local construction on the $1.35 billion Gowrie to Helidon section of the 1,700-kilometre major freight rail line connecting Melbourne and Brisbane is expected to begin before the end of the year.
Construction water concerns
Toowoomba’s community dam water levels are the lowest in a decade, sitting at 30-per-cent capacity.
Despite being generally supportive of the project, Mr Antonio said the council was worried it would negatively affect the region’s already stretched water resources.
“Given the significance of water in the region, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) needs to clearly outline an approach to construction water management that does not include council resources,” he said.
The council highlighted water issues in its response to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Gowrie to Helidon section.
An ARTC spokesperson said water management plans had been tailored for each section of Inland Rail to ensure a mix of water supply options are used.
“However, potable water is required for some construction activities.
“Outlined in the Gowrie to Helidon EIS are a range of conventional water sources with a preference to source recycled water from two licensed recycled water pipeline operators along the reuse groundwater egress during the construction of the tunnel.”
These sources will provide water for the majority of construction activities in the Toowoomba Regional Council area, according to ARTC.
In its response to the draft EIS, the Toowoomba Regional Council said the ARTC consistently failed to provide sufficient detail or evidence regarding the potential significant environmental, infrastructure, water resource, cultural, social and economic impacts of the proposed project or identify and commit to appropriate mitigation measures.
Risk to aquifers
The proposed rail construction also includes a tunnel through the Toowoomba Range, which has the potential to breach and drain surrounding aquifers.
The draft EIS states there may be up to 1,700 megalitres of groundwater drained into the Toowoomba Range Tunnel during the construction period and up to 85 megalitres a year during operations for the life of the tunnel.
Mr Antonio said ARTC had failed to provide any mitigation measures or commitments regarding the loss of this town water from the aquifer or detailing any intention to capture, reuse, or relocate groundwater that drains into the tunnel.
In its response, the council states it will not accept any loss of current or future town water supply for any reason or under any circumstances.
An ARTC spokesperson said it would develop a groundwater management and monitoring program throughout construction.
“ARTC is working with the State Government agencies and departments to navigate the complexities of this issue.”
Mr Antonio said construction works proposed to start in the second half of 2021 should not proceed until EIS itself had been approved.
Queensland’s Coordinator-General is considering submissions and will decide if additional information is requested from ARTC.