Critical valleys in drought and key issues

As at 8 February 2019 there are six major 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 pipeline from Murray River to Lower Darling River commissioned (expected April 2019)
  • Water carting is in place for domestic water for some landholders not connected to town supplies.
  • Releases have ceased in the Lower Darling now the block banks are filled
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel operating
Issues
  • Red alert for algal blooms
  • Fish kills in December and January because of high temperatures and low oxygen levels.
  • DPI Fisheries have installed aerators at three locations and have relocated a small number of stressed Murray Cod near the Menindee township 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
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 the river has not flowed since.
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.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel - operating
Issues
  • Barwon-Darling irrigators have not been able to pump for any significant water since mid-2017 and nothing in 2018
  • Towns have limited water available in weir pools
  • Towns are also using artesian bore water but experiencing higher sodium levels.
  • NSW Health testing the quality of the artesian water supply for Walgett
Outlook
  • Substantial flows required upstream in NSW and Queensland tributaries to restart flows in the Barwon-Darling.
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 4%
  • 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
  • Split Rock Dam will be operated for critical needs only
  • Last release made from Keepit Dam in December 2018
  • General security users in the Lower Namoi had restrictions placed on use of account water during 2018 – this was lifted in mid December to access final block release water.
  • No further releases will be made to Lower Namoi water users unless inflows increase
  • 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 have 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.
  • Current shortfall of 84 GL to meet 2019/2010 high priority commitments for Lower Namoi Valley.
Macquarie River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage

Storage Levels
  • Burrendong Dam at 10%
  • Windamere Dam at 35%
  • New drought of record – inflows are 30% 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
  • Water transferred from Windamere to Burrendong Dam in January
  • Block releases of irrigation orders required in the lower Macquarie
  • Delivery of environmental flows from July to December 2018 assisted in providing water along the length of the river
  • River will be subject to a staged cease to flow
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
  • Windamere Dam on red alert for blue-green algae
Outlook
  • Flows in excess of 60,000 ML are required by end of January to secure high priority needs for the 2019/20 water year
Gwydir River 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage

Storage Level
  • Copeton Dam at 12% 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
  • Delivery of environmental water has assisted in providing water along the length of the river
  • Final deliveries are being brought forward to save water
Issues
  • Carryover for general security commercial users was restricted
  • Copeton Dam on amber alert for blue-green algae
Outlook
  • Essential requirements are secure for next two years, although substantial inflows of about 32 GL are required before a general security allocation can be made.
Border Rivers 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage

Storage Level
  • Pindari Dam at 9% of capacity
  • Glenlyon Dam at 18%
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 future deliveries, including essential requirements
Issues
  • Inflows are less than 25% of average
  • Amber alert for blue green algae in Pindari Dam
Outlook
  • Essential supplies are secure for next year

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.