High and dry: Tamworth facing toughest water restrictions in 7 years

TAMWORTH users are staring down the barrel of the toughest water restrictions in nearly seven years as the capacity of Chaffey Dam continues to drop.

YESTERDAY: Chaffey Dam was sitting at 36.5 percent but is still slowly falling. 090714BSC37

YESTERDAY: Chaffey Dam was sitting at 36.5 percent but is still slowly falling. 090714BSC37

Buckets are likely to replace hoses as the outside water-use tool within about three weeks if there is no rain or runoff into the city’s main water supply.

Chaffey Dam yesterday sat at 36.5 per cent capacity but is continuing an agonisingly one-way drop from its top level – a record set three years ago this month at 

110 per cent or just over 68,000 megalitres. Chaffey has been falling since this time last year, except for a very short recovery for a few days last November.

But it is now is at its lowest point since August 2007 and holds only about 22,630 megalitres.

Tamworth Regional Council water director Bruce Logan estimates that at recent consumption rates, the next level of restrictions under its drought and dam management plan will start in as little as 14 days.

“Our consumption has slowed a little in the past month or so, and a bit of rain slowed it some more and we were tracking at about 0.1 per cent use a day, but there has just been this slow, inexorable path downwards,” Mr Logan said.

“I think despite the restrictions in place since May, we haven’t seen much change – it is almost at the same rate that we saw in 2006 and 2007.”

Those new water rules will apply to about 15,500 users of the town supplies in Tamworth, Moonbi and Kootingal. 

Mr Logan said new zero allocations for irrigators and other general water user licence holders in the Peel, introduced this month, might see a slowing in the drop of the dam water levels. At that point, Tamworth Regional Council and a couple of other high-security water users would be the only ones taking water from the daily releases.

“It is hoped this will result in a reduction in the rate of fall,” Mr Logan said.

“We actually had four days – that’s last Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – where the level remained about the same, so the drop in our consumption pattern has slowed but I think we have between two and three weeks. So yes, about the start of August could be when we hit that new trigger level,” he said.

Chaffey Dam hit its lowest ever point in June 2007 at 13.7 per cent but good rain saved the day and has sustained it at fairly high levels since then.

But it has been dropping steadily since January this year when it was at 60 per cent.

Sprinklers were banned in May and only periodic use of handheld hoses allowed, but under the new rules all hoses outdoors will be outlawed.

Under Level 3 restrictions, the council would also reduce its own watering of public parks and gardens by half, an issue that has dogged councillors and city residents before. 

Many believe the council has to be seen to be toeing the line just like residents and domestic gardeners, but there are many, including former civic leaders, who argue the city has to maintain its green belts to a certain level.

General manager Paul Bennett canvassed that conundrum after Tuesday night’s meeting. 

“We are getting towards, very quickly, the next level of water restrictions – Level 3,” Mr Bennett said.

“We are just reiterating to the public how important it is to conserve our water.

“We don’t want to get back to where we were in the early to mid-2000s.

“It’s about council being vigilant and making sure that council sets a good example about our own water use.” 

Under the buckets-only rule, exemptions can be obtained to allow the elderly and infirm, who cannot carry heavy buckets, to water for about 15 minutes twice a week with a hose. 

The fourth level of water restrictions are triggered when the dam hits 30 per cent. All outdoor water use is banned and industry and institutional users are asked to cut their consumption by 20 per cent.

If Tamworth goes to Level 3 rules, the use of hoses will not be allowed again until the dam rises to at least 37.5 per cent.

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