Leaking Millicent Swimming Lake to open over summer after plea from mother, son and local businesses
An artificial swimming lake in South Australia's south-east will open over the summer school holidays at a cost of $100,000 to the local council, while work continues to get a contractor to fix massive leaks in the concrete base.
Wattle Range councillors were swayed to open the Millicent Swimming Lake over the six weeks of the holidays after a plea by a 13-year-old boy and his mother at a meeting on Tuesday night, as well as calls by local businesses to reopen the popular attraction.
The council realised earlier this year that every day, about 300,000 litres might have been leaking back into the aquifer from the lake, which holds 11 million litres.
The problem went unnoticed because staff had misread a water meter at the lake — potentially since 2013 — as they did not notice the amount had to be multiplied by 10 to work out the true water use.
Wattle Range Youth Advisory Council member Chad Cockrum, 13, told the meeting that what he and other young people in Millicent loved most about summer in the town was the lake, and that they all wanted it open during the holidays.
"I hope that our councillors really think about our community and make the right decision by opening our lake this summer," he said.
His mother, Tamara Cockrum, said a lot of families could not afford to drive to pools in Mount Gambier or Nangwarry, or to the beach at Beachport.
"It brings families and visitors from far and wide. If you chat to anyone not from here, they will mention the swimming lake," Ms Cockrum said.
It was also noted that swimming lessons would not be held in Millicent over summer without the lake opening. 
Councillors voted in September to reconstruct the lake floor at a cost of more than $700,000, rather than doing a temporary fix that would have finished before summer, at a cost of $300,000.
The lake has more than 20 holes in its base, including holes that were created when exploring how to fix it.
Those new holes will have to be filled in before the first day of school holidays on December 16.
The lake has to be dry and the temperature under 32 degrees Celsius for the work to be done, so the best time is in autumn.
Engineering services director Peter Halton told the meeting that $150,000 had already been allocated to run the lake over the normal, longer opening time so there would not be an additional cost to the council.
He estimated that the cost of refilling and maintaining the lake this summer would be approximately $100,000. 
But some councillors pointed out that any money spent on the lake was taking away from other projects, or adding to the $2.7 million deficit for this financial year.
"We are responsible for making sure the budget is reasonable," Cr Dale Price said.
But others said the people who would most benefit from the lake opening were those who could not afford to drive to other places to go swimming.
"I think we have to think of those people as they're the most likely to use this pool," Cr John Drew said.
Millicent Business Community Association chair David Smith wrote to the council ahead of the meeting, calling for the lake to open over summer.
"While we appreciate that this might incur a not insignificant expense for council, we believe that the economic benefit to the district would justify such an outlay," he said.
Sean Sparkes, who runs a cafe next to the lake, said keeping it open would be good for tourism and business.
"It will give the kids something to do as well. There's nothing really for them," he said.
The lake opened in 1969 and is similar to another swimming lake in Naracoorte.
The council is facing a fine of $58,000 for overusing its water allocation over previous years.
Mr Halton told the meeting there was only a very small risk that the council would go over its water allocation this summer by opening the lake, since the period it was opening was much shorter than the usual December–March opening dates.
"It's not anticipated to be an issue, unless we find a massive leak," he said.
As well as fixing leaks in the lake, work will be done to improve its filtration system, make it more accessible for people with a disability and add tiles to the toddlers' swimming area.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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