The once drought-ravaged communities of south-west Queensland are discovering the path to prosperity isn't as easy as just adding water.

Story By Sally Nicol

Queensland is still wringing wet. A series of tropical cyclones in January and March delivered rejuvenating rain to 99 percent of the state. However, it’s the record flood event of late February and early March that southerners are sweating on to deliver vital flows to the Murray-Darling Basin.
Heavy and widespread rainfall throughout central and southern Queensland created record flooding in the Paroo, Warrego, Balonne, Weir and Moonie river systems wiping out homes, businesses, roads, livestock and crops around Charleville, Roma, St George and beyond.
The Queensland Government puts the damage bill at upwards of $508 million but is predicting the southern Queensland floods will deliver a billion-dollar boost to the state’s economy.
The floodwaters have flowed over the border to the Menindee Lakes system but Bunty Driver from the New South Wales Department of Water says Queensland’s big flood is losing steam as it heads south. “A considerable amount of water has been absorbed by the river system in replenishing arid floodplains and filling numerous channels and billabongs,” Bunty says. “A lot of water has also seeped into soils from where it will eventually recharge groundwater systems.”
The inflow to Menindee Lakes by the beginning of June should be around 1000 gigalitres. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will divide that catch between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Chief executive Rob Freeman says it’s only if the volume of water reaching Menindee exceeds storage capacity that any excess will be passed downstream to the Murray and then either captured in Lake Victoria or flow through to the Lower Lakes in South Australia. “It’s not a drought-breaker for the Murray-Darling but it will certainly improve the outlook for the 2010-11 water year,” Rob says.
In Queensland the long-awaited rain has brought both hope and despair. In communities along the rivers the flood clean-up is done but rebuilding may take 12 months or more.
For some there is no rebuilding. After 11 years of operating a medical practice in Charleville, Dr Sian Ford is closing its doors. It’s not an easy decision. Charleville is where she and husband Nick Chicalas have built their home and are raising their three children. For Nick it’s been four major floods in 20 years and the couple don’t think they can face another one.

This story excerpt is from Issue #71

Outback Magazine: June/July 2010