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Remote NSW Darling River town expected to run out of raw water within days

By Christopher Testa, Friday September 20, 2019 - 18:46 EST
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The lower Darling River is drying up because of no inflows into the Menindee Lakes. - ABC

A council in far west New South Wales has started trucking water to a remote Darling River town that is expected to run out of raw water within days.

The township of Pooncarie, on the Darling River Run between Wentworth and Menindee, is home to about 40 people.

It is the second time in four years the town has been forced to turn to emergency supplies of water, with no inflows into the Menindee Lakes causing the lower Darling River to dry up.

"Usually Pooncarie gets water straight from the river, from the Lower Darling, but unfortunately due to the dry conditions it appears that they're going to run out of water sometime in the next two or three days," said Peter Hyde, the NSW Department of Industry's director of inland water planning.

"There is a bore that was put in place in 2015, and that provides water for drinking water and showering.

"It doesn't give them enough water in terms of being able to provide water for gardens and some of the green spaces that are really important for people's mental health during dry periods like what we're in now."

While the bore can supply water for household use, the trucked-in water is needed for toilets and, potentially, firefighting.

Pooncarie boasts a hotel, a general store and a cafe.

Its after going into recess at the end of 2012.

The earlier this year fuelled ongoing debate about the effect water management is having on the river, and fisheries officers have recently been in the Pooncarie area removing native fish to relocate them south near the Murray-Darling junction at Wentworth.

'Come and say g'day'

Josh Sheard, who runs the Pooncarie Hotel Motel, moved to the town about six years ago from Central Victoria and is about to experience a dry Darling River for the second time.

"People are concerned," Mr Sheard said.

"There is reason to be concerned, but there are steps in place for us to be looked after."

Mr Sheard said there were "mixed reports" about the quality of the bore water the town has been using since November 2018, when the water in the Pooncarie weir pool became too salty to be used for a potable supply.

Some remote stations along the lower Darling have been receiving trucked water from Wentworth Shire Council for several months, although many have not allowed their children to come into contact with it.

"Personally, I think it's quite good — you can drink it, and for showering and things like that there's not any great issues with it," Mr Sheard said.

"A few of the children have problems with eczema and things like that, but it's not serious at this stage."

With tourism critical to the town's economy and its annual race meeting coming up on October 5, Mr Sheard is hopeful the water situation will not deter visitors.

"It's not an ideal situation we're in but the town's still here and people need to come out and say g'day and support us for themselves," he said.

Trucking water to remote towns not new for council

Carting water to its most remote residents is not a new phenomenon for Wentworth Shire Council.

When the river last ran dry, in 2015, it had to deliver clean water to landholders, who needed to spend thousands of dollars installing tanks on their properties to be able to accept the trucked-in supply.

"But this is the first time we've ever carted to the town of Pooncarie itself," Wentworth Mayor Melisa Hederics said.

"We're usually carting to station owners."

Councillor Hederics was at a meeting with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro in Sydney on Thursday, as senior staff at the Wentworth council prepared to begin trucking water to Pooncarie.

"This is a big thing and like I said, we were in Sydney and as soon as we mentioned it, it spread like wildfire and it was out there, so that's a good thing," Cr Hederics said.

"It's not a little job, it's a big job and it's an expensive cause that we have to take but you know what, that's the position we're in and as a council, that's what we'll be doing."

The State Government already has an agreement in place to reimburse the council the full cost of water carting, because station owners have been receiving trucked water for months.

The funding arrangement runs until the end of the year, although there is no indication it will not be extended.

"I think it would be a pretty poor State Government if they said no to supplying or refunding water for those people up there," Cr Hederics said.

"Dare I say it, it's probably going to get worse before it gets better out here with this drought.

"So we will definitely make sure that all our ratepayers out there in those areas are looked after with this water.

"That's what our job is, to look after people out there."


© ABC 2019

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