Racing against drought

PREMIER Peter Beattie has labelled the Western Corridor Recycled Water (WCRW) project as one of the most significant in Australia's history, with an announcement that more than 62 per cent of Queensland was now officially drought declared.

Mr Beattie and Deputy Premier and Infrastructure Minister Anna Bligh visited the site known as KP70, just north of Esk, yesterday to check the progress of the Caboonbah to Bundamba part of the project.

Digging has reached the 13 kilometre mark, with another 67km to go before the 2.5m deep trench reaches its final destination ? the Bundamba Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Mr Beattie said his Government was doing all that was humanly possible to make the south-east corner drought proof.

"You get an idea of the magnitude of this project when you're flying over it," Mr Beattie said.

"We all know how bad the drought is. What we're trying to do with recycled water and desalination is drought-proof the south-east corner. Nobody has ever done this before and frankly we owe a great debt to the workforce."

Helping pipeline workers through a particularly tough section of rock near Esk is the American-built Trencor chain trencher. The 800-horsepower machine is the second biggest of its kind in the world.

Ms Bligh said the Government had sourced materials and equipment from around the world in an effort to finish the water grid as quickly as possible.

With Wivenhoe Dam predicted to plunge to five per cent of its capacity by December next year, the situation is critical.

"Pipe laying on the water grid, including projects like the Western Corridor Recycled Water project, is now progressing above the predicted pace," Ms Bligh said.

"We are laying pipe at a rate of about 700m a day and we are now on schedule to be in advance of the expected completion dates for the laying of the pipe ? that doesn't necessarily mean we'll be ahead on where the water treatment plants are but obviously getting this pipe in the ground is one of our main priorities."

Ms Bligh said recycled water could be delivered to Wivenhoe Dam by as early as December next year, enabling authorities to maintain a minimum five per cent level.

Having flown over key parts of the water grid before yesterday's inspection, Mr Beattie expressed how distressed he was with the current level of Wivenhoe Dam.

"Anyone who has seen it full, or near full, and then seen it today, would have to be distressed," he said.

The State Government has approved drought declaration for the Maroochy, Caloundra City, Caboolture, Pine Rivers, Redcliffe and Brisbane City shires.

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