Drought turns farmers against each other

DESPERATE farmers and families deep in drought are turning on each other by stealing water from dams, tanks and household taps.

In a growing problem shocking police, water thieves on the southern Darling Downs and Granite Belt - one of the worst-hit areas of Queensland's drought - have stolen tens of thousands of litres of drinking and dam water in the past six months.

Property owners, now locking their gates to stop water being siphoned from dams and tanks, have revealed their heartbreak about how the drought has turned desperate people into criminals.

Acting Inspector Gerard Brady told The Courier-Mail the thefts in Stanthorpe and Warwick were probably carried out by residents who had never broken the law before.

"It just shows how dire it has become,'' he said.

Acting Inspector Gerard Brady with El Arish resident Linda Sutherland.
Acting Inspector Gerard Brady with El Arish resident Linda Sutherland.

Acting Insp Brady said that, in the past six months, there had been at least 10 cases of water theft from farm dams, homes, parks and the Stanthorpe Airport, which uses the water for firefighting.

Stanthorpe farmer Andrew Todd, 61, told how thieves targeted his cattle property three times, stealing about 70,000 litres of drinking water over five months.

Mr Todd said he had put in a new water tank and had shipped water in.

However he believed the thieves knew he wasn't staying at the property, suggesting they were locals.

Andrew Todd had 70,000 litres of drinking water stolen from tanks on his cattle property at Dalveen, north of Stanthorpe. Picture: Steve Pohlner/AAP
Andrew Todd had 70,000 litres of drinking water stolen from tanks on his cattle property at Dalveen, north of Stanthorpe. Picture: Steve Pohlner/AAP

More sympathetic than angry, Mr Todd, who lives in Dalveen, about 20km north of Stanthorpe, said he would have given people the water if they were that desperate.

"It's just very sad. You've got to lock your gates now,'' Mr Todd said.

Acting Insp Brady said some thieves were siphoning the water into large tanks, drums or trucks.

On several occasions, propertues were targeted when people were away or unaware because their dam was not in sight.

In the past fortnight, a Stanthorpe family who went on holidays returned to find the water meter reading much higher than when they left.

It was suspected the thieves had turned on their tap and filled up drums.

Acting Insp Brady said he felt for people in the area, but it was still theft and those caught would be charged.

"It's just the pressure people are under out here, I don't think people realise the seriousness of it (the drought)," he said. "It's certainly a problem we've never had before and it will probably become more widespread."

Acting Insp Brady said the thefts were probably done by more than one person but no one had been charged yet.

He urged communities to regularly check water meters and call police if they believed they had been targeted.

It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who arrived in Dalby yesterday to announce a $100 million expanded drought plan, urged farmers and communities to use the support on offer.


"Sometimes, you know, they feel like that they shouldn't and my message to them is you should,'' he said. "You work hard. This isn't welfare. This is really just helping people make sure that they can maintain viability."

State Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said water theft was serious and blamed the Labor Government for water mismanagement.

"Water theft is an appalling crime and there is no place for it in Queensland," she said.

"I get that people are desperate in the drought but stealing water is a low act and the book should be thrown at them.

"Water thieves in a drought rip the fabric of the community apart; these towns are already doing it bloody tough and we don't need people preying on their fellow Queenslanders like this."

Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham dismissed the criticism, but echoed Ms Frecklington's remarks about the thieves.

"The record dry conditions are affecting almost everyone across Queensland but there is no excuse for anyone stealing water from others,'' Dr Lynham said.

"Nor should anyone in a position of leadership be making excuses for it.

"The Palaszczuk Government knows Queenslanders are struggling in the drought conditions, which is why we are providing aid in the short and long-term including emergency funds for Stanthorpe to cover $2.4 million worth of water infrastructure, as well as costs to cart water."

Dr Lynham said the State Government had allocated almost $75 million over four years for a drought assistance package in the recent Budget.