Critical valleys in drought and key issues

As at 15 August 2019 all the major inland river systems, except the Murrumbidgee Valley, (shown in the map) are classified as in emerging, severe or critical drought stages. An overview of the situation in each valley is described in the tables below. You can also download a high resolution version of the map (note this is a large file, 3 MB).

An information sheet on accessing alternative supplies and financial assistance is available.

Drought stages summary, August 2019

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 in 2019/20, all carryover suspended.
  • Last general security allocation made in 1 July 2017.
  • Reduced allocations announced for high priority (town, domestic and stock) and high security (permanent plantings) needs – but water will not be able to be delivered in 2019/20 until inflows occur.
Actions
  • Temporary water restriction put in place on 4 December 2018 in the Lower Darling limiting water extraction to high priority needs only. This continues.
  • Four block banks constructed in river in 2018 to pool water for stock and permanent plantings. Water pools are now very low.
  • Pipeline from Murray River to Lower Darling River constructed to supply Broken Hill began operation in April 2019.
  • 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 in January 2019.
  • Critical Water Advisory Panel operating.
Issues
  • Fish deaths in December 2018 and January 2019 because of low dissolved oxygen levels. Less of a risk during cooler weather conditions but fish deaths likely again as weather warms.
  • DPI Fisheries installed aerators at four locations and three were installed by OzFish and local community in 2019/20.
  • A small number of stressed Murray Cod near the Menindee township were re-located to the Narrandera Fisheries Centre in early 2019.
  • Supply behind block banks is depleting.
Outlook
  • Substantial flows required upstream in the Barwon-Darling River and tributaries to improve storage level and flush lower river.
  • Small flows have reached Wilcannia upstream of the Lakes but are not sufficient to provide any significant increase in Menindee Lakes.
  • Around 20 to 50 GL would be needed to replenish the lower river.
Barwon-Darling River 
Drought Stage

Stage 4 - Critical drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage

Allocations
  • Allocations announced on 1 July 2019, but water unable to be pumped by irrigators due to temporary water restrictions.
River Level
  • A release of environmental water in autumn/winter of 2018 from the Gwydir and Border Rivers provided flow down to Menindee Lakes.
  • During March to August 2019 small inflows from tributaries, local rainfall and another environmental release restarted flows in some sections and replenished town weir pools and fish refuge pools. Very small flows may reach Menindee Lakes.
Actions
  • Pumping for commercial purposes from the Barwon-Darling River is not permitted. Restriction on A, B, C class pumping along the river from Mungindi to Menindee in place until the end of August 2019.
  • A restriction on pumping from the lower Namoi River applied on 31 March 2019 allowed some flow to reach Walgett, at the junction with the Barwon River. This restriction was repealed on 6 May 2019.
  • Flows from the Nebine/ Culgoa River reached the Darling River and increased the level of Bourke’s town water supply weir.
  • A request was made to the Queensland Government to allow some high flows to pass Beardmore Dam and to cross the NSW border.  Some flows entered the NSW system and provided water for local needs.
  • The 2019 environmental water release of around 30 GL from Glenlyon Dam in the Border Rivers and Copeton Dam in the Gwydir reached Brewarrina in August.
  • 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 restrictions remain until end of August 2019.
  • While recent flows and rainfall has assisted in topping up some town water supply weirs, there are still some sections of the river which have not received flows.
  • 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 decrease over winter, but likely to occur again in summer.
Outlook
  • Substantial flows required upstream in NSW and Queensland tributaries to provide flushing flows along the length of 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 2%.
  • The Namoi Valley has entered the lowest inflow (worst drought) since 1918.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security in Lower Namoi for 2019/20 and all carryover water suspended.
  • Last Lower Namoi general security allocation made in August 2017.
  • Zero for general security in the Upper Namoi for 2019/20 and suspension of some carryover water.
  • Reduced high security allocations for both the Upper and Lower Namoi Valleys, but water will not be able to be delivered in the Lower Namoi in 2019/20 until inflows occur.
Actions
  • Water transferred from Split Rock to Keepit Dam during 2018.
  • No further releases will be made to Lower Namoi water users unless inflows increase.
  • Natural inflows caused by rainfall in late March 2019 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 deaths in January 2019 and further deaths are occuring because of very low water availability.
  • Two solar aerators installed in the dam.
Outlook
  • 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 5%.
  • Windamere Dam at 32%.
  • New drought of record – inflows are 35% below previous record low inflow.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security for 2019/20 and all carryover water suspended.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
  • Reduced high priority (town, domestic and stock) and high security allocations for 2019/20.
Actions
  • Initial transfer of water from Windamere to Burrendong Dam in January 2019.  The final transfer may occur later in the year (leaving the agreed 70 GL reserve in Windamere Dam).
  • Environmental flow rules and allocation provision suspended in July 2019.
  • Raising of Warren Weir will curtail regulated river flow to the lower river and Duck and Crooked Creeks from early spring 2019 to prioritise water for towns, including Nyngan and Cobar, and critical industries.
  • The Government has committed $8.3 million for the off-stream storage for Nyngan and Cobar, $2m for critical maintenance of the Albert Priest Channel which supplies Nyngan and Cobar, $30 million for Dubbo to expand its borefield and $2 million to allow Narromine to access groundwater.
Issues
  • Flows to the lower river and Macquarie Marshes will need to be met from downstream tributary inflows.
  • Environmental account water will not be able to be released from the dam until storage conditions improve.
Outlook
  • If inflows do not occur, then all active storage water in Burrendong Dam will be depleted by June 2020.
Gwydir River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Copeton Dam at 9% of active capacity.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security for 2019/20, but all carryover water available.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
  • Full high priority and high security allocations for 2019/20.
Actions
  • Environmental releases were made in April 2019 to provide flow along the Lower Gwydir and Mehi system into the Barwon-Darling.
  • Delivery of water in 2019/20 will require block releases to conserve supplies.
Issues
  • Copeton Dam on amber 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 4 critical water shortage

Storage Level
  • Pindari Dam at 5% of capacity.
  • Glenlyon Dam at 8%.
Allocations
  • Zero allocation for general security A and B class for 2019/20, and 50% of carryover water suspended.
  • Last general security B class allocation made in January 2018.
  • Full allocations announced for high priority and high security licence holders, although delivery of water will be limited.
Action
  • Environmental water was released in April/May 2019 to replenish waterholes for native fish along the river and into the Barwon–Darling to Brewarrina.
  • Priority in 2019/20 will be to provide for town water supplies, although flows may need to be provided in block releases.
  • Water may not be delivered below Goondiwindi Weir.
Issues
  • Inflows are less than 25% of average.
  • Red alert for blue green algae at Boggabilla and Goondiwindi.
Outlook
  • Supply will be restricted in 2019/20.
Peel River 
Drought stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 4 critical water shortage

Storage Level
  • Chaffey Dam at 22% of active storage.
Allocations
  • No allocation for general security in 2019/20.
  • Last general security allocation made in October 2018.
  • Reduced allocations for high priority (town and domestic and stock) and for high security users, although supply below Dungowan will be restricted later in 2019 if dry conditions continue.
Action
  • Work is underway for a series of temporary weirs in the Peel River to extend supply for Tamworth and reduce around 17,000 ML in transmission losses below Chaffey Dam.  The Government has committed $3.4 million for these works and $2 million for further supply investigations.
  • Planning for a pipeline from Chaffey Dam to Dungowan is underway to further conserve water supplies.
Issues
  • Inflows into the dam and transmission losses below Chaffey Dam are at record high levels.
  • Supply below Dungowan will be restricted and alternative supply may need to sought for downstream commercial users.
Outlook
  • All efforts are being made to extend Tamworth’s supply.
Belubula River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Carcoar Dam at 20% of active storage.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security for 2091/20, but full carryover will be available.
  • Full domestic and stock and high security allocations for 2019/20, although water below Canowindra may not be able to be supplied from regulated releases.
  • Last general security allocation made in December 2016.
Action
  • The end of system flow rule was met only intermittently throughout 2018/19 because of reduced water in storage and tributary inflows.
  • The rule in the water sharing plan was suspended in July 2019.
Issues
  • Low inflows into the storage in 2019.
  • Dam is a relatively small storage with a maximum capacity of 36 GL.
Outlook
  • Tributary inflows will be required to meet demands at the end of the system.
Lachlan River 
Drought Stage

Stage 3 - Severe drought

Stage 3 severe water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Wyangala Dam at 25% of active storage.
Allocations
  • Zero for general security in 2019/20 and carryover restricted to 57%.
  • Last general security allocation made in August 2017.
  • Full town and domestic and stock allocations, but reduced high security allocations.
Actions
  • Replenishment flows provided over May and June to provide domestic and stock water.
  • Water Quality Allowance was released in summer of 2019 to reduce issues with blue-green algae outbreaks in the lower Lachlan.
  • Environmental water was delivered to Booligal Swamp in June, Booberoi Creek from June to August and mid Lachlan wetlands from July.
Issues
  • Inflows into the Lachlan normally occur in winter/spring. Minimal inflows to date – close to the record minimums.
  • Lake Brewster empty so water will have to be delivered from Wyangala Dam.
Outlook
  • Over 200 GL of inflow is required to enable a general security allocation to be made.
Murray River 
Drought Stage

Stage 2 - Emerging drought

Stage 2 emerging water shortage.

Storage Level
  • Dartmouth Dam is at 60% - shared resources.
  • Hume Dam is at 36%.
Allocations
  • No general security allocation for 2019/20, although all carryover water will be available.
  • Last general security allocation made in March 2018.
  • Full high priority and maximum security allocations (97%) provided, although conveyance allocations reduced to 6%.
Actions
  • Drought operational planning underway for 2019/20 if conditions worsen.
  • Current flows downstream are above the minimums required to provide fish habitat along the river.
  • Conveyance allocations reduced, but will be the first to increase if sufficient inflows occur.
  • Environmental water pulses planned for August and September.
Issues
  • The resources of the Murray River are shared between NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
  • The River Murray system as a whole experienced ‘near extreme’ dry inflow conditions for most of 2018/19, although rainfall since May has provided some useful inflows into Hume Dam.
Outlook
  • Recent improvements in inflows have assured all high priority and carryover water can be met in 2019/20.

Critical issues

Algal blooms were occurring across the state over the summer of 2019 and 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 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 or can be searched on the website of the Bureau of Meteorology.