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Driest year on record for Port Macquarie and more pain ahead

Tough times: Cowarra Dam is at 51% capacity. Photo: Carla Mascarenhas.
Tough times: Cowarra Dam is at 51% capacity. Photo: Carla Mascarenhas.

Port Macquarie is currently experiencing its driest year on record and there is little chance of a reprieve, according to the Bureau of Metereology (BoM).

Senior climatologist for the BoM, Blair Trewin, said up until the end of July there had been 387.6mm of rain, breaking the previous January-July record low of 458.2mm set in 2014.

"There's only been another 3.2mm since the start of August," Mr Trewin said.

The driest calendar year on record was 1915 which only recorded 734mm of rain.

And the BoM seasonal climate outlook is not promising.

"It indicates a 60-70 per cent chance of below average rain for the August-October period in the region," Mr Trewin said.

"August to October is also historically the driest time of year for the region."

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is currently under Level 1 water restrictions which began on April 15 this year.

Water restriction levels are determined based on an assessment of daily customer demand and the storage volume available in the Cowarra and Port Macquarie Dam.

The current combined storage of the Cowarra Dam and Port Macquarie Dam is 60.6 per cent.

Cowarra Dam is at a level of 51.3 per cent and Port Macquarie Dam at a level of 97.7 per cent.

The trigger point for Level 2 water restrictions is 60 per cent of the combined storage of the two dams.

The decision to heighten water restrictions is made at the discretion of council's general manager.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council was contacted for comment on whether current water restrictions are under review given the dwindling water supply and forecast conditions.

It is going to be expensive to maintain production through until we get significant rain, and there doesn't appear much chance of that until the beginning of next year.

Leo Cleary

Question marks over water storage potential

According to the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's website, the Cowarra Dam aims to "progressively cater for the region's high growth rate".

"It is the end result of a vision by council to ensure the region is drought-secure, the local water supply is sustainable and that the Hastings River and its ecosystems remain protected," it says.

Water needed to fill the dam is harvested from the Hastings River at Koree Island just west of Wauchope.

During times of drought or low rainfall, council relies on the Cowarra Dam to meet consumer demands.

But some have questioned whether the council's water strategy is sufficient for Port Macquarie's growing population.

Brombin dairy farmer Leo Cleary irrigates from the Hastings River on limited hours but expects that arrangement won't last for "more than a few days without rainfall".

He said there needs to be a review of dam policy in the region.

"I am concerned we don't have enough storage for increasing populations with all these housing developments going up," he said.

"Additional storage needs to be looked at that could be in the upstream end of the valley."

Mr Cleary said his property had received about 30 per cent of expected rainfall this year and purchased feed had become "very expensive".

"It is going to be expensive to maintain production through until we get significant rain, and there doesn't appear much chance of that until the beginning of next year," he said.

DRY TIMES: Chris Nelson's farm at Long Flat is in desperate need of rain. Photo: supplied

DRY TIMES: Chris Nelson's farm at Long Flat is in desperate need of rain. Photo: supplied

Long Flat hay farmer Chris Nelson said farmers in the region were worried.

"The outlook for the next 3-6 months is poor so everyone I speak to feels this is perhaps the most concerning period Hastings farmers have ever had to deal with," he said.

Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan said the federal government was working towards increased water storage in regional Australia.

"Co-operation from the States is now opening up for a new era for construction of dam and long-term water security," he said.

"States across Australia are submitting their priority lists of proposed projects for federal funding.

"New impetus is being provided by the Federal Government's action in establishing the National Water Grid.

We know the key to unlocking the potential of regional Australia is simple - just add water.

Pat Conaghan

"We made the commitment before the last election and we're doing what we said we would do.

"The National Water Grid will cut through politics to use the best available science - unblocking holdups that may have occurred previously at state level.

"The Grid will deliver strategic planning and project management for water policy and water infrastructure right across the nation.

"We know the key to unlocking the potential of regional Australia is simple - just add water."

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