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Rainfall in parched Hunter Valley 'best in years', sees dry Moonan Brook surge back to life

Eliza Goetze and Kerrin Thomas, Friday January 10, 2020 - 14:30 EDT
Audience submitted image
Dogs enjoy a swim in a freshly part-filled dam on the Hobden family farm at Doyles Creek. - Audience submitted

Parts of the Hunter Valley have received the best rainfall in years after patchy downpours this week.

Locals at Moonan Brook rejoiced as a downpour high in the Barrington Tops pushed water down the watercourse, which had previously been bone dry, for the first time in local memory.

They were not alone as localised heavy falls delivered badly needed water to dams on drought-stricken farms scattered across the region.

But many other areas missed out, and residents are under no illusion there is much more needed to break the drought.

'A surreal feeling'

Harry Hobden said the rain was welcome on his family farm at Doyles Creek, which received 41 millimetres on Wednesday afternoon.

He said it was the first fall over 20mm in 16 months on the property where the family run 80 head of cattle with dams and creeks long dry.

"We'd just cleaned out a dam a couple of weeks ago, so it's put about a metre and a half of water in the dam there," Mr Hobden said.

"In another, larger dam we've got about two metres of new water in there.

"And for the first time — I think it would be in about four or five years — we've got the creeks running. So it's a great feeling.

"Our farm manager Jamie, he's a different bloke. He's happy and cheerful. Dad was delighted. My grandmother thought it was amazing. It does pick up your spirits."

With the spectre of bushfires just south of the Hunter Valley, rain helped boost the family's water supply in more ways than one.

"The Gospers Mountain fire's been sitting about 4km from us so the smoke cover has meant that our solar pump [for the well] hasn't worked and we haven't had much stock water," Mr Hobden said.

"So it'll mean a lot for us — put some water in the dams and hopefully give the stock some sort of green … to get into."

News travels fast

Moonan Cottage manager Kathleen Hobson was reduced to tears after watching a rush of rainwater fill a brook that had run dry.

Rain on Mount Barrington yesterday travelled around 20km down to Moonan Brook, east of Scone, which filters into the Hunter River.

Moonan Cottage manager Kathleen Hobson said neighbours further upstream gave her the heads up "with the bush telegraph. 'Did you get any of that rain?' No, we didn't. 'Well, we got some.'"

"Then we rang some others and they've gone 'our crossing is already flooded. It will be down your way in half an hour'."

Ms Hobson said she could hear the water rumbling towards her before she saw it.

She said it was a welcome sight and cattle have been quick to enjoy it.

"It's just amazing because we've had to watch the poor farmers find water to feed their cattle," she said.

"It was bad enough they had to feed them. It's been pretty heartbreaking watching all those people … struggle on a daily basis just to look after their cattle."

Showers a double-edged sword

But the bout of rain is but a tease in the broad scheme of the Hunter's severe drought.

As well as beginning to provide bushfire recovery assistance for farmers in areas from Singleton to the mid-north coast, Hunter Local Land Services (HLLS) is busy helping farmers ration their supplies for what looks to be a largely dry January and February.

While Murrurundi welcomed 35mm of rain on Tuesday — a welcome drop for the Upper Hunter town that has been on level 6 water restrictions and carting in water for every need for the last 12 months — other areas received much less, or nothing, this week.

Writer and journalist Jane Caro welcomed "softly falling" rain at her Upper Allyn property.

"We got maybe 6 [millimetres] … but it's great to see it's raining properly somewhere," she said.

HLLS general manager Brett Miners warned the rain could carry its own challenges with much of the water likely to be polluted.

"It's a real two-edged sword with rain," he said.

"Because so much of the catchment has been fire affected or severely drought affected, we are hearing some reports of some very poor water quality coming out of those burnt catchments."

The flow Kathleen Hobson filmed running down Moonan Brook began as a barrage of dirty, ash-filled water before it eventually cleared.

Likewise, on the Hobden farm at Doyles Creek, Harry Hobden also said the precious resource presented some issues.

"It did fall very quickly, I reckon in about 15 minutes. And there is a lot of damage," he said.

"But it's water on the ground. Any rain's better than no rain.

"It's still dry and there's no grass … but we'll take a bit of wash-off and run-off for that much water, that's for sure."


© ABC 2020

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