Dead in the water - big dry to spark tough new watering restrictions

AS THE drought bites more farmers, Tamworth town water users are set to be slugged with tough new outside watering rules within two weeks.

The Big Dry is moving from the paddock to the people’s backyards with little likelihood about 14,500 Tamworth homes will be able to avoid new water bans. With little prospect of rain, Tamworth faces having to move onto restrictions which will see the use of sprinklers limited to just two hours in the evening. 

It will be the first time in six years that water restrictions have operated in Tamworth and they will come into force as soon as Chaffey Dam, the main city water supply, reaches 50 per cent capacity.

That date, according to Tamworth Regional Council water director Bruce Logan, is likely to be within two weeks.

Yesterday, Chaffey stood at 54.3 per cent, its lowest level since January 2008, and with consumption patterns over the past few weeks showing the dam is drying up at the rate of about two percent a week, D-Day is a date likely in mid-February.

The trigger for the first level of water restrictions is for Chaffey to drop to 50 per cent and its little brother dam, Dungowan, which is one-tenth the size of it, to drop to 40 per cent. 

Yesterday Dungowan stood at just over 42 per cent.

The bans come as more heatwave conditions are likely and long-range weather reports suggest there’s not much relief in sight in the way of good rain.

In a desperate move to delay the onset of new water rules, Mr Logan yesterday appealed for residents to cut back on their consumption but he has admitted that the daily water use over the past six weeks at least has been sustained by a long, dry spring and summer and the heatwave conditions of January.

That heatwave last week saw Tamworth consume more water in one day than on any other day for eight years.

When the temperature hit 39.8 degrees last Tuesday Tamworth responded with a daily usage of 50.8 megalitres.  The last time Tamworth used more than 50 megalitres in a day was in January 2006.

Mr Logan wants users to cut their water use by up to one half and admits the drought and high temperatures are fuelling the higher than average usage. And blaming the invasion of country music fans for the festival isn’t an excuse.

“Country music fans don’t bring their lawns and gardens with them. They probably only account for about five megalitres so that’s basically insignificant,” Mr Logan said.

Consumption patterns have also shown that gardens and backyards are the biggest culprit when it comes to water guzzlers.

“We believe that about 25 to 30 megalitres of water is going to gardens, that’s what our research shows us in summertime. If you allowed consumers to have air conditioning and no watering outside, our consumption would be about 20 to 25 megalitres,” Mr Logan said.

Tamworth is the latest to see water restrictions as supplies dry up across the region. Wallabadah was yesterday reduced to an odds-and-evens watering system while there are limited use rules. At least nine northern centres are on some sort of restricted outdoor watering as some supplies start to approach critical levels.

At Bendemeer, all outdoor hoses and sprinklers have been banned  since last Saturday but consumption is still trending way above the target levels.

“All water supplies and storages across the Tamworth region continue to decline as a result of the ongoing dry spell while at the same time we are using more water than usual because of the hot weather,’ Mr Logan said.

“There is no real alternative but to reduce our water use. If the high level of use continues and there is no substantial rain we could reach the trigger point for level one water  restrictions in Tamworth in about two weeks.

“Our current consumption is reducing the dam level just over 2 per cent a week. It would be wise if we can all do our part and reduce our water use now.”

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