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Water flows in Gloucester again, bringing relief to drought-hit farmers

Ben Millington, Friday January 24, 2020 - 17:01 EDT



In the past seven days, the town of Gloucester in New South Wales has received exactly what it needed — a drenching of rain.

More than 100 millimetres has fallen in some parts of the area north of Newcastle and the Barrington River is flowing again.

Four years of low rainfall and biting drought had taken its toll, and as the Barrington ran dry over Christmas, the local council was forced to start trucking water into the town's 5,000 residents.

On Thursday, the Mid Coast Council had the town's water treatment plant on the Barrington River once again operating at full capacity.

Council's engineering director Robert Scott said the expensive water-trucking operation was unlikely to be needed again in the near future.



"We are seeing a decline fairly quickly, which you would expect considering how dry it's been; that water is being soaked up into the river system and moving its way down river," he said

"But we've got weather predictions showing potential rainfall over the next couple of days with good possibility of follow-up rainfalls in February, so from that perspective we're pretty optimistic."

The rain is a great relief to everyone in Gloucester, .

A green explosion

Last week, fourth-generation dairy farmer Tom Middlebrook was questioning his future in the industry as his farm faced collapse under the pressure of drought and a critical water shortage.

But now his brown dusty paddocks have erupted in luscious green grass.

"The picture has gone from extremely dire, where everything around us was just dirt, and now this is just everything you could hope for really," he said.

"Everything's going absolutely ballistic.

"There's growth everywhere where we didn't know whether it was going to come back or not, and you can see that we're experiencing some rapid, rapid growth situations."

Much of the land around Gloucester remains brown, but there are green shoots appearing and you can once again feel moisture in the air.

The Middlebrooks say the quick response of the grass can be attributed to well-maintained soil profiles in their most cherished paddocks.

They will continue hand-feeding their herd of 1,000 cows at a cost of $3,000 a day, but are now fertilising paddocks and planting a small crop to capture the last of the summer warmth.

Despite the rain, water storage remains a significant concern for the farm.

"If we have some consistency in the weather like this for the next couple of months, then you know we might get back to a point of being somewhat comfortable," Mr Middlebrook said.

"But there's no water in serious dams and the rivers aren't significantly running yet.

"We've just been lucky and got under a serious patch of weather and it's been excellent."




© ABC 2020

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