Desperate for water

 Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair. Photo: Contributed
Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair. Photo: Contributed

While good rain has fallen across areas in the central west during the end of February and beginning of March, many regions north of NSW have missed out on substantial falls and are even on water restrictions.

Over the past fortnight there have been two significant rain events over the region with combined totals of around 90 millimetres at Lithgow, 80mm at Mudgee, 50mm at Bathurst and Cowra, 40mm at Oberon, and 35mm at Orange, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Northwest NSW missed out on the rain during this period, with only 17.8mm falling at Bourke, 24.6mm at Walgett, just 2.4mm of rainfall was received at Wilcannia and 0.4mm at Cobar.

To help alleviate the dire water issue in their shires, representatives of Walgett, Central Darling and Bourke councils recently met with Water Minister Niall Blair regarding the request by the councils and Central Darling Shire for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to consider the provision of the water from their holdings for an environmental flow in the Barwon Darling River System.

It was acknowledged there was a small flow in the river at the time but it was unlikely to last any length of time and unlikely to get past Brewarrina and as such was going to do nothing for those further downstream.

Indications from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Office were that any flow provided would come from multiple storages and a large degree of coordination would be required to ensure as much of the water as possible reached its intended destination.

Mr Blair indicated that the council’s representations were timely as the Government’s Water Reform Action Group, an interagency working group, has been established and has been tasked with developing interim solutions to improve the management of environmental water within 90 days of the group commencing.

As part of this, the Water Reform Action Group has produced an options paper and Exposure Bill to be released in the week beginning March 12.

Mr Blair added that there will be opportunities for community and stakeholder feedback on the proposed options during the consultation period with a series of meetings to be held in regard to the options, with one of the meetings to be held in Bourke shortly after the release of the Options Paper and Exposure Bill.

Bourke Shire General Manager Ross Earl said representations have been made to various departments following the meeting and he thinks there has been some conversations with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder office.

“But I’m not quite sure where its gone from there,” he said.

“Certainly we’re looking for a level of co-operation from everybody. We’re doing our bit to ask the Minister and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to get some water down for us and we’ve done that.

“But its progressing. It hasn’t stalled. I’ve got a degree of optimism….”

Bourke Shire Council’s general manager Ross Earl. Photo: Fairfax Media

Bourke Shire Council’s general manager Ross Earl. Photo: Fairfax Media

Mr Earl said Bourke Shire was losing about a centimeter of water) a day.

The Shire is currently on Level 2 water restrictions.

“We’re still trying to maintain (water). We’ve got Easter coming up, we’re trying to accommodate people and keep our parks green but having said that we’re mindful of water restrictions,” he said.

“We’ve restricted watering in all of our parks and we’re asking people around town to do the same.”

On Sunday, March 4, Bourke Shire received just over 12 millimeres of rain, Mr Earl said.

“The rain isn’t a drought breaker by any means but certainly it’s a great help,” he said.

“It would help the people growing gardens and gives the grass a refresh.”

On Thursday, March 8, NSW Greens Water MP Jeremy Buckingham congratulated Mr Blair for placing an embargo on water extraction on the Barwon Darling system.

He said the embargo would ensure expected flows from significant recent rainfall in Queensland will at least reach the Bourke weir pool, but raised concerns that too much water will be extracted in Queensland to the detriment of the Darling River.

“I have been pressuring the minister in parliament today to impose an embargo on the Barwon Darling today to ensure water from recent rain events reaches the Darling River, and I’m pleased to see the Minister agree to an embargo late this afternoon” Mr Buckingham said on Thursday.

“It’s very concerning that the Minister does not expect water to reach further downstream than the Bourke weir.  How much of this rain event will be pumped into the irrigation dams around St George and at Cubbie Station in Queensland?”

Mr Buckingham said right now the Darling River is in crisis.

“We have a blue green algae red alert on the lower Darling River between Pooncarie and Burtundy that could become life threatening and the Darling is bone dry above Wilcannia. Without significant flows, the Menindee Lakes system and the lower Darling will be without water by the end of the year for the second time in three years,” he said.

Mr Buckingham said it was pleasing to see that community pressure and concern for the health of the Darling River has seen the Nationals put the interests of the community and the river ahead of their mates and donors from the irrigation industry for once.

Mr Earl said it was getting dire around rural areas across the Bourke Shire. 

“I understand people were unloading stock,” he said.

Mr Earl said it must be disheartening when it’s raining down the road, but you miss out.

“The rain was quite patchy. Some people got good falls and other people got hardly any,” he said. 

Mr Earl said quite often there are areas around the Shire that receive good substantial rain and others receive nothing.

“We’ve had a time here where there was significant rain north of Bourke where the airport is located (about 5 kilometres from the town) and but in Bourke there was hardly any,” he said.

“So sometimes the weather gauge can be a bit deceiving.”

In September last year there were fears that the town of Byrcock, which is in the Bourke Shire, would run out of water unless there was significant rainfall.

“Byrock relies purely and simply on ground water inflow. There’s no bore out there,” Mr Earl said.

Mr Earl said Byrock was going fine at the moment, with decent rain falling over the weekend of March 4.

“Byrock should be right for another 5 to 6 months,” he said.

“When the temps drops it makes a big difference because when you get hot weather  when you’re in short water supply that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Despite the situation, Mr Earl said they welcome any rainfall.

“It just makes a big difference to the town and lifts the spirits of everybody…,” he said.