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Western NSW industries brace for further water restrictions as drought worsens

Lucy Thackray, Monday May 13, 2019 - 16:50 EST
Audience submitted image
Without significant rainfall, Burrendong Dam could run out of water within 12 months. - Audience submitted

Major industries including mines, abattoirs and even Dubbo's zoo are being warned their water allocations will be restricted within weeks, as the water crisis in western New South Wales worsens.

The Macquarie Valley's water storage, Burrendong Dam, is currently at 6 per cent and falling with record low inflows.

Without significant rainfall, the dam is expected to be empty within 12 months.

Located near Wellington in the NSW central west, Burrendong Dam has a capacity of more than 1,600,000 megalitres and supplies water to communities from Wellington to Cobar.

Worst case inflows: Water authority

WaterNSW spokesman Tony Webber said the authority will make cuts to high security water allocations when the new "water year" begins on July 1 as the region continues to struggle through unprecedented drought conditions.

"WaterNSW and the NSW Government are implementing stringent drought measures to ensure that water is available for essential supply for towns and communities downstream," he said.

"We are seeing a worst case scenario in terms of inflows.

"In recent times, the inflows have been well beneath the chronically low levels that we experienced in some of the worst droughts we have had."

High security licence holders are given the highest priority when authorities allocate water and can typically rely on receiving their full allocation, unless in severe drought.

The licences are reserved for large-scale operations like councils and mines to ensure they can run consistently.

The severity of the restrictions will be decided in negotiations between the water authority and stakeholders this week, as they try to strike the balance between conserving water and sustaining regional employment.

"We will be talking to stakeholders about how much impact these reductions will have on important operations, which are significant employers for the region," Mr Webber said.

One of those stakeholders is Fletchers International Exports which operates a sheep processing facility in Dubbo and is a significant employer for the central west.

The director Roger Fletcher said it was important that all parties work together.

"All the stakeholders have to just look at ways we can conserve and get through the best we can.

"We've looked at things at the plant, I've been around and I think sometimes we can be a bit lazy and we can tighten up on the amount of water we're using and that's what we've all got to do."

"It's difficult but when difficult times come, you get better dealing with it.

"It's just an insurance policy because we don't know how long the drought is going to go and if we can conserve it for a few more weeks all the better."

Zoo reduces irrigation by half

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo is a high security water user, requiring water for animal containment as well as the health and wellbeing of its animals.

Zoo director Steve Hinks said they've been taking action over the last year.

"Over the past year we have been making an intensive effort to reduce water usage across the site.

"This includes reducing the frequency of irrigation to 50 per cent.

"In addition we have reduced the irrigation program by half, resulting in only essential areas of the zoo being irrigated."

Further action imminent

WaterNSW will also meet with the Dubbo Regional Council to discuss the local government's water allocation.

All water users are being warned there will be changes to Burrendong Dam useage for the 2019-20 water year.

"This water year we're already seen zero general security allocation for irrigators," the authority's Mr Webber said.

"It's almost certain there'll be zero allocation for the following water year too.

"Environmental flows have been cut back by 30 per cent, they're likely they'll be cut back more."

WaterNSW anticipated that from early spring, regulated river flows will cease beyond Warren for the Macquarie Valley.

"We're planning around the worst case scenario," Mr Webber said.

"When we say the dam may be exhausted by 2020, that factors in a transfer from Windamere Dam and factors in the pumping of dead storage, which is storage below the outlet, which is otherwise not accessible."


© ABC 2019

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