A REPORT prepared for the Australian Capital Territories (ACT) government has warned that ACT Electricity and Water (ACTEW) would continue to enforce tough water restrictions in the coming years if it failed to increase water storages. The report said a plan to cut water usage by 25 per cent in Canberra will cost the community at least US$304M. Water restrictions have been in place in Canberra almost unchanged since late 2002.

ACTEW had previously maintained that Canberra would not need a new dam until at least 2017. But the continuing drought, and the impact of the bush fires in 2003, as well as drying out of the region due to changes in climate, has sharpened the need for a new dam much sooner. The study says without a new dam, or an increase in the capacity of an existing storage, Canberra could expect stage one or greater restrictions on water use at least once in the next three years. Stage three and four restrictions, which in some cases ban outside watering altogether, would be needed around 8% of the time.

Three options for more water storage are being examined, including an expansion of the Cotter dam in the ACT, building a new dam on the Gudgenby river to Canberra’s south, or piping water from Tantangara dam which lies in New South Wales. ACTEW said Canberra was relatively water rich in terms of the amount of water flowing through the territory, but this was not being harnessed by storages. A final report on what the ACT government should do for its future water needs is expected to be released in March.