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In mid-November 2022, hundreds of tilapia, barramundi, catfish, eels and shrimp were found dead about 4 km downstream from Gordonvale. A month later, another mass fish death occurred at Smiths Creek in the heart of Cairns. Both of these mass fish deaths were attributed to low levels of dissolved oxygen in waterways, which occurs during periods of high temperatures and low rainfall. These events are very concerning and demonstrate how our climate is changing, leaving our precious waterways vulnerable.

Dead fish in the Mulgrave River. Image: Supplied.

At the same time, Cairns Regional Council has reported that Cairns could face a drinking water shortfall by 2026 without action now. What they mean is that Cairns’ demand for water is projected to surpass our current supply of water. A crisis like this can be solved by lowering our demand for water or by increasing our supply of water.

Council has proposed the Cairns Water Security Stage 1 project, which seeks to build infrastructure to harvest water from the Mulgrave River and increase the volume of water being drawn from Council’s existing Behana Creek supply. The project is estimated to cost $248 million and will secure Cairns water supply for a decade (2026 – 2036).

However, Cairns is among the top water users in the state, and there are significant untapped opportunities for our region to decrease our water usage and demand. An independent analysis commissioned by CAFNEC revealed the need for costly infrastructure could be deferred if Council invested in meaningful water demand management, such as community education, rainwater tanks, and financial incentives.

On October 20, 2022, CAFNEC hosted a Community Water Forum at James Cook University to inform and consult key stakeholders, including Traditional Owners, and the broader community in how our water crisis is being addressed. If you missed it, you can watch the livestream here.

We are now asking the community to share their thoughts on the proposed solutions to our water crisis in a Community Poll. We recommend watching the livestream before completing the poll although it is not a requirement.

The results of the poll are completely anonymous and are being shared with Cairns Regional Council.