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Hume Dam fills for first time since 2016 while downstream farmers are bracing for flooding

Friday September 10, 2021 - 05:15 EST
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Hume Dam is now effectively full at 98 per cent capacity.  - ABC

After a string of dry years, the Hume Dam, just outside Albury in NSW, is officially filled with water for the first time in five years. 

Last time locals saw the dam this full was in 2016, which saw flooding downstream after Lake Hume spilled. 

Murray-Darling Basin Authority's Acting Chief Executive Andrew Reynolds said it had increased the releases to approximately 31,000 ML per day to create some airspace in the dam. 

"It's sitting at 98.5 per cent full and without the releases we are doing, it would obviously fill, so it's effectively

"Right at the moment, with forecast for wetter conditions over the next couple of months and limited demands downstream, we are trying to draw the storage down a little bit to create some air space so if we do get another large rainfall event, we can capture the peak inflows as it comes in." 

"We've got drier conditions forecast for the next week, so we'd like to draw the dam down by a couple of per cent if we can,  but we are equally aware of the impacts that can have downstream, so we're trying to limit flows below minor flood level downstream."

Mr Reynolds said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority worked with landowners downstream to ensure they were updated with the latest information.

"There are very clear priorities for how we are required to operate the dam. 

?First, we have to protect the infrastructure, secondly is to maximise water available for entitlement holders and thirdly to limit flooding where we can.?

"We do look to the outlook and further inflows that we do expect, and we try to manage the storage level to mitigate flooding.?

The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted a wetter than average spring this season. With the dam already full, Mr Reynolds said one of their challenges will managing those releases in the coming months to avoid the dam spilling.  

"While we have a wetter outlook for the coming months, it really does demand if we get a large intense rainfall event that generates an intense rainfall event or if we get steady rainfall events. 

"We work very closely with the Bureau of Meteorology, one of the challenges we have is that the forecasts that we rely on only extend to about a week." 

Moving to higher ground

Marie Dunn, a cattle farmer just outside of Howlong, NSW, whose family has been on their land along the Murray River since the 1860s, spent her weekend moving 50 head of cattle and calves to higher ground to get them away from the water. She said the lowlands of her property have disappeared under the water.

?We?re feeling very glad that we moved all the cattle,? she said.  

?We?ve had one calf that has been rejected by its mother. These things happen, and I don?t think cattle liked being disturbed.?

Her property flooded last in 2016, and she is worried about a repeat event this year.

?Very nervous about a full dam at this stage of spring,? Ms Dunn said.

?If the river doesn?t go up too much more, then we can probably handle that; however, one big ran event could change that.

?Already on my second pair of gumboots?

Andrew Watson, a cattle farmer outside of Albury, also spent his weekend moving 500 head of cattle and calves up to the higher ground. He said there was already plenty of water on the ground at his property.


?It?s great for irrigators and environmental flows; however, if we get a major rain event, then two-thirds of my place could go underwater,? Mr Watson said.

?I find the hardest thing is that we all knew it was going to rain this year. I?m already on my second pair of gumboots.?

?This season isn?t over yet. This is round one of the flood sagas, and there might be three of four rounds to go.

Mr Watson said he was happy with the amount of water being released from Hume Dam at the moment. However, things could change very quickly.

?What they are releasing is enough at the moment. I just don?t want the flows to go over 40,000 ML,? Mr Watson said.

?Forty is a magical figure where it stays in the bank and behaves itself. Once it gets over 40, it goes out onto country, and it will damage crops and or I can?t use it, which is tricky.?

?I just wish the commission guys would talk a bit more and create just a bit more airspace in the Hume. Just that little buffer in case these big rain events happen.?


© ABC 2021

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