Critical valleys in drought and key issues

As at 15 May 2019 there are eleven major inland river systems where normal river operations are no longer possible and are classified as in emerging, severe or critical drought stages.

Lower Darling 
Drought Stage

Stage 4 - Critical drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage

Storage Level

  • Menindee Lakes at 1% of active capacity.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in 1 July 2017.
Actions
  • Temporary water restriction put in place on 4 December 2018 limiting water extraction to high priority needs only.
  • Four block banks constructed in river to pool water for stock and permanent plantings.
  • Copi Hollow bank constructed and filled to secure water for Broken Hill and Menindee township until the pipeline from Murray River to Lower Darling River began operation in April 2019. Copi Hollow is still supplying towns of Menindee and Sunset Strip.
  • Water carting is in place for domestic water for some landholders not connected to town supplies.
  • Releases ceased in the Lower Darling once the block banks were filled.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel operating.
Issues
  • Red alert for algal blooms.
  • Mass fish kills in December and January because of low dissolved oxygen levels.
  • DPI Fisheries installed aerators at four locations and three were installed by OzFish and local community. These appear to be providing refuge for some fish.
  • A small number of stressed Murray Cod near the Menindee township were re-located to the Narrandera Fisheries Centre.
Outlook
  • Substantial flows required upstream in the Barwon-Darling River and tributaries to improve storage level and flush algae in lower river.
  • No significant inflows are predicted in the next few months.
Barwon-Darling River 
Drought Stage

Stage 4 - Critical drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage

River Level
  • A release of environmental water in autumn/winter of 2018 from the Gwydir and Border Rivers provided flow down to Menindee Lakes, but since then the river has not flowed for more than 200 days in many sections.
  • Small inflows from tributaries and local rainfall during autumn have restarted flows in some sections.
Actions
  • Pumping for commercial purposes from the Barwon-Darling River is not permitted.
  • Final water was released from Keepit Dam in the Namoi Valley in December 2018 with a small volume reaching the weir on the Namoi River for the township of Walgett. Limited volumes of flow reached in mid-January.
  • A restriction on pumping from the lower Namoi applied on 31 March has allowed some further inflow to reach Walgett. This was repealed on 6 May 2019.
  • A planned environmental water release of around 30 GL from Glenlyon Dam in the Border Rivers and Copeton Dam in the Gwydir is expected to reach Collarenebri in late-May. These events are likely to connect the Barwon-Darling to Brewarrina and possibly beyond and provide support for fish populations and fill town water supply weir pools.
  • Restrictions on A, B, C class pumping along the river to Tilpa applied on 17 April to protect the environmental release and any small flows that enter from the Warrego River. This was extended to Menindee on 6 May 2019.
  • Two aerators installed in the Collarenebri weir pool in collaboration with local fishing club and Aboriginal community.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel - operating.
Issues
  • Barwon-Darling irrigators have not been able to pump any significant water since mid-2017 and nothing in 2018/19.
  • Some towns have limited water available in weir pools, although recent flows and rainfall has assisted in topping up some town water supply weirs.
  • Towns are also using artesian bore water but experiencing higher sodium levels.
  • NSW Health testing the quality of the artesian water supply for Walgett.
  • Fish kill on the Barwon River upstream of Walgett in March.
  • Red alerts for algal blooms are decreasing as the weather cools.
Outlook
  • Substantial flows required upstream in NSW and Queensland tributaries to provide flows along the length of the Barwon-Darling.
  • Planned environmental release will provide flows part way down the river and some inflows have enabled sections of the river to flow.
Upper and Lower Namoi River 
Drought Stage

Stage 4 - Critical drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage - Lower Namoi.

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage - Upper Namoi.

Storage Levels
  • Keepit Dam at 0.5% of active capacity (effectively empty).
  • Split Rock Dam at 3%.
  • The Namoi Valley has entered the lowest inflow (worst drought) since 1918.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security in Lower Namoi.
  • Last Lower Namoi general security allocation made in August 2017.
Actions
  • Water transferred from Split Rock to Keepit Dam during 2018.
  • Last release made from Keepit Dam in December 2018 – small flows reached Walgett in January.
  • Environmental water delivered as part of the final block release.
  • No further releases will be made to Lower Namoi water users unless inflows increase.
  • Natural inflows caused by rainfall in late March were restricted to town, domestic and stock and high security access only. Some useful flows reached Walgett in April.
  • Restrictions on access repealed on 6 May 2019.
  • Pian Creek replenishment flow deferred.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel operating.
Issues
  • Because of low water levels boating access has been limited to Keepit Dam.
  • Low flows downstream of Keepit Dam and high temperatures contributed to fish kills in January.
  • Two solar aerators installed in the dam.
Outlook
  • Substantial inflows required into Keepit and Split Rock Dams to provide further water.
  • Storages need about 85,000 ML of inflow before normal regulated river operations can resume.
Macquarie River 
Drought Stage

Stage 4 - Critical drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage.

Storage Levels
  • Burrendong Dam at 6%.
  • Windamere Dam at 33%.
  • New drought of record – inflows are 60% below previous record low inflow.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
Actions
  • General security users in the Macquarie restricted to 70% of account water on 1 July 2018.
  • Initial transfer of water from Windamere to Burrendong Dam in January.
  • Block releases of irrigation orders to the lower Macquarie.
  • Delivery of environmental flows from July to December 2018 assisted in providing water along the length of the river.
  • About 300 ML of licensed environmental water was provided to maintain water levels in the lower Nyngan Weir pool for refuge sites for fish.
  • Rain at the end of March allowed water to be diverted to the Lower Bogan River and into Marra Creek for stock and domestic replenishment.
Issues
  • It is unlikely that there will be enough inflows into the system to ease account water restrictions this summer.
  • Concern over population of threatened native fish in the Bogan River.
Outlook
  • Drought contingency measures are in preparation to extend existing limited water supplies in the Macquarie Valley for 2019/20.
  • Additional transfer of water from Windamere to Burrendong Dam may be required from December 2019.
Gwydir River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Copeton Dam at 11% of active capacity.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
Actions
  • Block releases completed for the effluent streams.
  • Block releases to deliver remaining irrigation water.
  • Releases have been made to maintain fish refuge areas in parts of the Gwydir system.
  • 3.7 GL was released from Copeton Dam from 15 April to assist with larger planned release of Commonwealth environmental water in May. The aim is to provide flow along the Lower Gwydir and Mehi system into the Barwon-Darling.
Issues
  • Carryover for general security users restricted.
  • Copeton Dam on red alert for blue-green algae.
Outlook
  • Essential requirements are secure for next two years, although inflows of about 50 GL are required before a general security allocation can be made.
Border Rivers 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Pindari Dam at 6% of capacity.
  • Glenlyon Dam at 10%.
Allocations
  • Small (32.8%) allocations for A class licences
  • Zero for general security B class
  • Last general security B class allocation made in January 2018
Action
  • Block releases required for deliveries, including essential requirements.
  • Replenishment flow provided for Boomi Creek.
  • Deliveries west of Boggabilla have ceased.
  • A planned environmental water release from 24 April 2019 will replenish waterholes for native fish along the river and into the Barwon–Darling to Collarenebri
  • Restrictions on unregulated river access imposed on 17 April between Mungindi and confluence with Boomi River to protect the environmental release.
Issues
  • Inflows are less than 25% of average.
  • Red alert for blue green algae in Pindari Dam.
Outlook
  • Essential supplies are secure for next year, but restrictions may be needed.
Peel River 
Drought stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Chaffey Dam at 26% of active storage.
Allocations
  • 38% for general security.
  • No general security allocation expected for 2019/20.
Action
  • Drought planning underway, including the potential to restrict flows below Tamworth to secure town water supply.
Issues
  • Evaporation rates have been high and flow into the Chaffey storage is close to the historical minimum.
  • Tamworth Council moved to level 4 town water restrictions on 6 May 2019.
Outlook
  • Remaining supplies in Chaffey Dam are a secure supply to Tamworth until at least June 2020.
Belubula River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Carcoar Dam at 26% of active storage.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in December 2016.
Action
  • The end of system flow rule has been met only intermittently throughout 2018/19 because of reduced water in storage and tributary inflows.
Issues
  • Low inflows into the storage in 2019.
  • Dam is a relatively small storage with a maximum capacity of 36 GL.
Outlook
  • End of system flow rule in the water sharing plan may need to be suspended to protect high priority supplies in 2019/20.
Lachlan River 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Wyangala Dam at 31% of active storage.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
Actions
  • Replenishment flows will occur over May and June to provide domestic and stock water.
  • Water Quality Allowance was released to reduce issues with blue-green algae outbreaks in the lower Lachlan.
Issues
  • Minimal inflows – winter/spring rainfall is required to provide for water requirements in 2019/20.
Outlook
  • Not all carryover water will be able to be delivered in 2019/20 and high security allocations may need to be restricted if inflows do not occur.
Murrumbidgee River 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Blowering Dam is at 26%.
  • Burrinjuck Dam is at 30%.
Allocations
  • General security allocation of 7% for 2018/19.
  • No general security allocation expected for 2019/20.
Actions
  • Drought operational planning has commenced for 2019/20.
  • Conveyance allocations may be reduced.
Issues
  • Algal blooms were of concern during the year in the lower Murrumbidgee and river operations combined with the release of some environmental water assisted in dissipating the algae.
Outlook
  • A current shortfall of some 100,000 ML exists in meeting all 1 July 2019 high priority commitments, plus full opening allocations to conveyance entitlements.
Murray River 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Dartmouth Dam is at 62% - shared resources.
  • Hume Dam is at 14%.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security.
  • Last general security allocation made in March 2018.
Actions
  • Drought operational planning has commenced for 2019/20.
  • Conveyance allocations may be reduced.
Issues
  • The River Murray system as a whole has experienced ‘near extreme’ dry inflow conditions for 2018/19.
Outlook
  • It is likely that high priority commitments, including general security carryover, can be met in 2019-20.

Critical issues

Algal blooms are occurring across the state and have contributed to fish kills in a number of areas. Algal blooms impact on the use of river water and dams for recreation and impact on aquatic life. Towns also need to provide additional water treatment for water affected by algae.

For the latest algal alerts go to WaterNSW.

Information on the location of recent fish kills in NSW and the likely causes is available from the Department of Primary Industries

Details of NSW Government Emergency Relief funding provided to Local Water Utilities can be viewed in the interactive map

The department’s temporary water restrictions protect essential supplies and environmental releases.

Drought conditions have led most NSW rural towns to impose some level of water restrictions. Information on specific town restrictions are available from the local councils' websites.