With all the flooding around, it’s easy to forget that droughts will be back.
The last drought in the Wambuul-Macquarie was shocking.
Burrendong dam emptied quickly between 2017 and 2019, and soon after, fish and turtles were being rescued from drying green pools of water downstream of Warren.
As the dam approached 0%, plans were made to rescue platypus in anticipation of the river stopping at Burrendong, and Dubbo faced day zero.
But have we learnt our lesson?
No. The allocation settings for Burrendong have not changed. Burrendong dam will be emptied every two years, regardless of the climactic outlook.
The government could chose to consider the droughts that have happened since 2004 when determining water allocations – but they don’t. Here’s what they say:
“After the Millennium Drought, NSW opted not to take a more conservative approach to its water allocations to improve water security for critical needs in the event of a future severe drought. Rather, in the event of the next drought, it was preferred to use other emergency drought mitigation measures to support communities. These include carting water for some domestic uses and restricting access to carryover water in general security licence accounts to meet higher priority needs.
In the wake of the recent drought, there are again calls to reduce water allocations to mitigate the impact of future droughts—that is, to be more conservative in how much water is allocated over a particular period to keep more water in reserve. However, this could potentially have a cost to productivity across non-drought years.” NSW Water Strategy page 88.
The government would rather let the river run dry than reduce water used for irrigation.
Read Healthy Rivers Dubbo’s submission to the second draft Macquarie-Castlereagh Regional Water Strategy.
The NSW Government policy certainly seems irresponsible. For example, when the dam is empty, where are they going to truck water from? Maybe we should consider the situation if there was no Burrendong Dam and no irrigation, to simulate natural conditions. During drought there would be little flow from upstream, but stretches of the river would contain quite a lot of water at the start of the drought and probably the adjacent alluvium would be full of groundwater. With no water being pumped out, the river would remain wet for quite some time. The present situation with dam and irrigation will ensure the river stays wet for 2 years, then what? Which of those 2 scenarios would keep the river wet for longer? But now we have an additional option, to make Burrendong’s water last more than 3 years. Obviously that would be better for town water supply, but which would be best for the environment?