Football clubs across Melbourne are being kicked off their grounds and other sports are struggling to survive as the drought tightens its grip on Victoria.
With stage 3 water restrictions only two weeks away, amateur and junior teams have been banned from pre-season training.
And householders could be stopped from using any water outside the home next year.
If the city’s water catchments fail to get significant rain, the toughest restrictions, stage 4, could come into force.
Water Minister John Thwaites confirmed the dire scenario yesterday when announcing stage 3 restrictions would start across Melbourne from January 1.
“It really depends on the rain we get in the autumn period. But certainly stage 4 for Melbourne is a possibility,” Mr Thwaites said.
Drastic bans then would prevent watering gardens, washing cars and filling backyard pools.
From New Year’s Day, stage 3 restrictions ban sprinklers and spray watering systems.
Gardens can be watered only by a drip system or with a hand-held trigger hose twice a week.
However sport clubs are already feeling the heat. One council is threatening to fine clubs that disobey the order and train on dry ovals.
At least four councils — Bayside, Kingston, Maroondah and Casey — covering 70 suburbs have no choice but to enforce the ban.
A crippling lack of water has forced the closure of several cricket grounds in the Geelong area, while en-tout-cas tennis courts are also being shut.
The Highfield Rd Uniting Church Tennis Club in Canterbury last week sent a notice to members telling them its courts were off limits for summer.
Ivanhoe Golf Club has had its water allocation, taken from the Yarra River, halved. Greens and tees are the only areas being watered, leaving fairways the driest locals have ever seen.
The big dry has also reached the elite level, with A-League soccer leader Melbourne Victory reduced to honing their skills at the beach.
Victory spokesman Tony Ising said the team was forced to find alternative venues when its training pitch at Melbourne Grammar School became too dry.
“It’s been very difficult,” Mr Ising said. “But we’re not in a unique situation.
“It’s bad the nation over.”
Although Victory has some access to Telstra Dome and Olympic Park, the club is desperate to find a suitable pitch.
The Moorabbin Saints Junior Football League’s 6000 kids and 250 teams have been told they won’t be allowed to kick a football until the season starts in April.
“It’s bad, it’s very bad,” league president David Andrews said.
“But it’s out of our control. If there’s no grass it becomes a dustbowl and unsafe.
“They’re paranoid about litigation and duty of care and all this sort of stuff nowadays.”
Clubs face jeopardising insurance policies if they claim for injuries that occur on grounds that don’t have council permits.
Beaumaris Junior Football Club president Rob Collie said his club had been told to stay on the sidelines.
“It’s pretty dire, and when you look at some of the grounds, they’re in shocking condition and we’ve still got three months to go,” he said.
“The kids want to get into it but we’ll just have to run them on the beach or something.”
Teams in the Eastern Football League have also been hit hard, with Mitcham vice-president Brian Lucas saying he couldn’t see the season starting next year.
Victorian Amateur Football League chief executive Michael Sholly said the lack of water could have shattering consequences.
“We have 58 under-19 teams this season and if we have to cancel, you’ll have thousands of kids roaming the streets,” he said.
“It’s of massive importance that we play. It has huge social ramifications if we don’t.”
South East Water spokesman Luke Enright said councils would only be granted exemptions from restrictions if they rationalised watering down to 25 per cent of the municipality’s playing fields.
“We acknowledge this will have an impact on sporting clubs and the community, but we are in a position where we need to use less water,” Mr Enright said.
However Municipal Association of Victoria president and City of Port Phillip councillor Dick Gross urged councils to fight harder for exemptions.
“The shortening of sporting seasons is just terrible,” he said.
“This activity is at the forefront of community life and we spend buckets of money maintaining these assets and the community likes us to spend it.”