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Armidale residents donate water to save trees in heritage-listed park as drought continues

By Peter McCutcheon, Monday November 4, 2019 - 06:17 EDT
ABC image
Children pour water on a tree in Armidale's Central Park. - ABC

Residents in the regional city of Armidale are donating their own water to save trees in the local heritage-listed park, as the drought continues to deplete the district's water supply.

Armidale, in northern New South Wales, currently has strict Level 5 water restrictions, with the local council predicting there are less than 400 days of water left in the city's dam.

The council is deciding whether to save the city's Central Park, which was established in 1880. It is one of the only Victorian-era parks left in NSW.

Usually full of thriving oaks and conifers, the drought has left some of them dying. The most at-risk trees are marked with orange ribbons.

For now, the park is being watered with bore water.

"We're putting in the equivalent of about 4 millimetres a week and we don't know whether that's enough. We'll see how that goes," said Richard Morsley, Armidale Regional Council's coordinator of public and town spaces.

The council has invited the public to donate water to keep the trees alive.

"Not a day goes past when people don't trot in, sometimes even with a shopping trolley load full of bought water, and just leave them soaking on the mulch," Mr Morsley said.

"It's been great."

Deputy Mayor says town faces 'a real crisis'

Armidale Regional Council recently began searching for bore water sources in the region, something it has never had to do before.

But finding groundwater would only help in the short term.

"It could be a couple of weeks, but that's all. It's only a supplement," Scot MacDonald, the council's general manager of businesses, said.

"This is regarded as one of the safest areas in the state. It's a brilliant agricultural area for its lambs, its wool, its beef. This is new territory for us."

Armidale's Deputy Mayor Lib Martin, who has lived locally on the land for 33 years, said she and her family were drawing on their savings to handfeed their cattle.

"This is a real crisis. This is the drought to end all droughts, unfortunately," she said.

"It's pretty tough. It's tough physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and you know, it's the day-to-day.

"A lot of people have sold off all of their stock. We're probably down to about half of ours, and it's probably nearly too many."

Conditions have 'never been seen before'

It is not just farmers in the region who are struggling. Sales of farm equipment and support vehicles have plummeted.

"We did a bit of a budget a while ago — at least 50 per cent down and it's looking worse as the weeks go on," said Greg Frost, owner of Super Moto New England.

"It affects so many people, it's that widespread. It's never been seen before."

When the drought does break, Ms Martin said Armidale's economy will take a long time to bounce back.

"I just wish at some point the Government would take it seriously that we really are in crisis because I still believe a lot of them think if it rains it's going to be happy days," she said.

"We all know that's not how it works."

She is also concerned about climate change modelling which suggests similar drought events are going to become more frequent.

"We'll need to be more prepared for what's in front of us, as well as looking at ways to stop it progressively getting worse," she said.


© ABC 2019

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