Critical valleys in drought and key issues

As at 8 April 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 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 the river has not flowed for more than 200 days
  • Only small inflows from tributaries to date.
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.
  • 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 mid-May. Combined 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 may enter from the Warrego River.
  • 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 for any significant water since mid-2017 and nothing in 2018/19
  • 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
  • Fish kill on the Barwon River upstream of Walgett in March
  • Red alerts for algal blooms at a number of sites along the river
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.
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
  • Split Rock Dam will be operated for critical needs only
  • 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 have reached Walgett in April.
  • 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.
  • 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 7%
  • Windamere Dam at 34%
  • 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
  • Water transferred 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
  • Flows in excess of 60,000 ML are required 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
  • Releases have been made to maintain fish refuge areas in parts of the Gwydir system
  • 3.7 GL is being 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 commercial users restricted
  • Copeton Dam on red alert for blue-green algae
Outlook
  • Essential requirements are secure for next two years, although substantial inflows of about 50 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 6% of capacity
  • Glenlyon Dam at 12%
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

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.