First published on 10Daily.com, on 19 September 2019

We are in a critical situation in NSW. This drought is outside the history books.

The inflows into many of our state’s arterial rivers are the worst on record, and the temperatures the highest.

While local councils are their community’s water utility provider, the State Government will continue to help them where we can in getting through this difficult time.

This drought has gone beyond the farm gate.

Currently our Sydney Dam levels are at 48.8 per cent. This time last year, Sydney dams were 65.8 per cent full, and in 2017, they were 91 per cent full.

This is the biggest decline in water storage on record.

Many country towns are considering ‘Day Zero’ when the rivers and dams supplying them run dry.

For the past two years the Macquarie River, which supplies the 50,000 residents of Dubbo, Nyngan, Cobar, Warren, and Narromine towns, has received only 3.3 per cent of its usual inflows.

Forbes, Parkes, Cowra, Manilla and Boggabri are dealing with 8.8 per cent of its average inflows into the Lachlan River and only 1.3 per cent of the average inflows went into the Namoi.

Walgett lost its river water supply in December when the lower Namoi ceased to flow and Keepit Dam ran dry forcing the town to switch to bore water.

Towns have already had to truck in water, hand out bottled water, or rely on bore water.

I’ve spoken to farmers and those living in country towns across NSW and I know they do not take water for granted.

I urge local government leaders to review their water restrictions to ensure they are appropriate for our current water reserves.

We are in a position to support the communities most in need, because we manage the economy, balance the books and are ready for situations like this.

Sydney is currently on Level 1 water restrictions, and the trigger point for level 2 is fast approaching.

While Sydney has had some rain over the past two days, there has been minimal inflows into the catchment, including 39mm at Warragamba. 

We need significant rainfall to break this drought – around 100-150mm is needed before significant runoff will occur in most catchments – That is more than the monthly average rainfall of some communities. 

We’re helping to stretch Greater Sydney’s water supply by ramping up the Sydney Desalination Plant with preliminary planning for its expansion started as our dam levels continue to drop.

The Plant is now producing an average of 250 million litres a day – approximately 15 per cent of Greater Sydney’s supply.

Since the Plant was turned on in January, the current dam depletion rates have improved by around 0.2 per cent per week.

In the west, NSW communities are feeling the worst of the drought.

We are already investing over $1.8 billion to support our regions through this drought, but also standing beside our local council’s as our com munities water utility provider to stretch out water supplies as much as possible.

Around $130 million has already been invested in emergency support for water supply for towns at risk, including $30 million for town water supply works and water carting.

$44 million for critical town water supply projects for Dubbo, Coonabarabran, Narromine, Nyngan and Cobar.

$6.7 million for emergency works to extend Tamworth’s water supply and undertake further planning, and millions more to towns such as Bathurst, Bourke, Broken Hill, Guyra, Menindee, Orange, Parkes, Tenterfield and Walcha.

We’re looking at all options including bore fields for groundwater supply, deep water access at dams, new pipelines, optimising existing water infrastructure, water extraction technologies and the development of new desalination plants.

The Burrendong Dam is below 4.5 per cent capacity. 

The NSW Government has invested almost $40 million into the Dubbo community to help them with their town’s drinking water, including over $7 million to access remnant storage in the dam – 21 Gigalitres of water that has never been accessed before.

The project will extend water availability in the Macquarie River to Dubbo for an extra four months. 

This is on top of $30 million already allocated to Dubbo Regional Council to and $2 million for Narromine Shire Council to improve access to deeper groundwater.

There’s no silver bullet, and we’ll need to consider a combination of projects to help get the state through our critical water situation.

Getting through this drought is only one step – we also need to do our best to be more resilient into the future.  

If we do not use this drought as the catalyst to urgently build new dams, and new water infrastructure, then we are letting our communities down.

This is a matter of national importance.

Australia has been in drought 15 out of the past 20 years. We are not strangers to the dry, but we can always find new ways of getting through it.

There is no better time to act.