Water restrictions are in force
THE impact of the ongoing dry spell is about to be felt across Cairns, as level one water restrictions are introduced for the first time in five years.In grim news for those with brown lawns and thirsty gardens, sprinkler usage will be limited as Cairns Regional Council tries to cut water consumption by 10 per cent.
But with water levels at Copperlode Dam dropping 1 per cent each day, Mayor Bob Manning warned level two restrictions could be on the way within the next 10 days.
The dam, which holds 37,100 megalitres, dropped to 79 per cent capacity yesterday, triggering the restrictions.
Water usage has blown outsince Christmas, with about 82 million litres of water consumed each day. The average resident has used about 250 litres a day since December 25, compared with the 2011-12 average of 206 litres.
Water levels fell while Cairns experienced its driest December since 2005, with only 42.8mm of rain recorded. It followed an unusually dry November when 22mm of rain fell as the El Nino weather pattern took hold.
Despite isolated showers due today continuing through to the weekend, duty forecaster Alicia Duncanson said Cairns may have to wait until the end of the month for any decent rain.
"Especially not at Copperlode Dam, which is where it's needed," she said. "We've got isolated showers but no moderate to heavy falls, so not enough to prop up dam levels."
To help the council reduce water consumption by 10 per cent, the restrictions will limit sprinkler usage to between 6am-8am and 6pm-8pm.
Cr Manning said water restrictions served as a reminder that water was a "finite resource" despite many people in the tropics taking it for granted.
"While we are blessed to live in a part of Australia that generally enjoys good wet seasons, this does not mean we can become complacent when it comes to water," he said.
"Given that the dam is dropping 1 per cent every day, we could reach the 70 per cent level in 10 days which would then trigger level two water restrictions."
Level two water restrictions would limit sprinkler usage to one hour in the morning and one hour at night.
Copperlode Dam caretaker Dietmar Reimann said while he had seen water levels much lower, the recent drop was significant.
"When it drops down at this level of course you have more of a drop because there's less surface area," he said.
Lake Tinaroo, primarily used by Tableland farmers for irrigation, has also fallen to 64 per cent.
The dam reached 100 per cent in July, but a lack of rain and increased demand by farmers meant water levels have dropped to the lowest level in 12 months.
But the low levels have not impacted Tableland residents, with level one restrictions only in place in the old Herberton shire.
The weather bureau's climate snapshot of 2012, released yesterday, showed the past decade has been one of the hottest on record in Australia, with daytime maximum averages half a degree higher than usual.
Overall, the 10 years to 2012 was the fifth-warmest decade in Australia's history, while globally, last year was the ninth hottest on record.
The drier El Nino weather system, which came into effect during winter, caused rainfall to drop 25 per cent below average.
Temperatures in Cairns are expected to reach 34C today and tomorrow.
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On watch: Copperlode Dam caretaker Dietmar Reimann keeps a close eye on the falling water level. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS