Demand at the stand

Sanderston hobby farmer, Gregg McKee travels 15 kilometres to Cambrai at least twice per week to collect water from the town’s standpipe for his household and stock.

The Cambrai standpipe is a busy spot these days.

A steady flow of dusty utes, cars with trailers, and small trucks bearing empty IBC containers make the turn into Skinner Street, after first stopping at the general store to retrieve the key for the standpipe tap.

Outlying residents and farmers across the Cambrai district are all too well versed in the process; it’s been a tough couple of years, and collecting mains water from the town’s standpipe has become a weekly ritual, necessary to keep livestock alive and toilets flushing.

Mr Gregg McKee is a resident of Sanderston, about 15 kilometres south of Cambrai.

He and his wife, Tania have a 20 acre hobby farm, where they keep horses and a few sheep.

They, like many others in the district outside the larger townships, rely on collected rain to supply their house and livestock with water.

And when rain doesn’t come, they have to find other means to keep their tanks full.

“Before we knew about this idea we got water trucked in, but it’s really expensive to do,” said Gregg, who collects 2,000L at a time from Cambrai to keep his tanks at home topped up.

“The standpipe is not such a big waste of money. Even though it’s convenient to get a truck load of water in, if you’ve got the time to do this, it’s a good way to do it.”

And it does take time. At the moment, Gregg does the round trip to Cambrai three times per week just to keep enough water in the tanks to service his farm.

“A normal year when we’re getting rain we wouldn’t be here for probably five months of the year, but for the last twelve to eighteen months it’s been constant,” he said.

It’s a common story. Mid Murray Council reported a 466% increase in water being taken for livestock from the 10 standpipes across the region during this drought period.

“We have also had requests for private works for water and we believe water carriers have been in high demand,” said a Council spokesperson.

In the first six months of this year, more than 1.8 million litres were accessed at Cambrai alone.

As a comparison, for the same time period in 2016 that number was closer to 250,000 litres.

Across the entire Mid Murray standpipe network, almost 5.5 million litres were accessed during the first half of this year, with usage showing no signs of slowing down.

“Definitely this year, there’s sometimes been three or four vehicles lined up, trucks and all sorts,” said Gregg.

“People are getting 4,000L up to 10,000L at a time. It’s definitely on the increase, that’s for sure.

“There’s a lot of talk about the lack of rain and the weather and how instead of it just being a few months of the year it’s been the whole year.

“It’s just added more work to everyone’s life.”

For households like Gregg and Tania’s, water conservation is a way of life.

Two minute showers, minimal flushing of the toilet, and an unwatered garden is the norm.

Unlike those with reliable bores or mains water supply, turning on a tap is never an experience taken for granted.

“Sanderston’s only 75 kilometres from Adelaide and not far from the River Murray but we have to go and collect water,” said Gregg.

“We’re okay to do it and it’s just part of our life, but that’s quite significant.”

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