Keepit Dam’s level was listed at 0.8 per cent and falling on Monday, December 10.
A look at the current situation, discussion of past actions and options for the future were all on the agenda at WaterNSW meetings with stakeholders last week.
The state-owned body held gatherings in Manilla, Wee Waa, Narrabri and Walgett in the Namoi Valley to talk about its operations as dam levels continue to fall.
The talks included questions about the timing of water releases, restrictions on trade, and the availability of carryover in the new financial year.
WaterNSW spokesman Tony Webber said the meetings had been “very worthwhile”, with Manilla the best-attended and Wee Waa attracting the biggest operators.
Late last week, Keepit Dam was down to 1.6 per cent of capacity and Split Rock Dam down to 4.7 per cent.
A restriction to 85 per cent of water Lower Namoi orders and Upper Namoi account water accounts had been lifted.
The block release from Keepit to the Lower Namoi was set to halt in mid-December, unless there were significant inflows; and all remaining water in account in the Upper Namoi was likely to be fulfilled by Split Rock.
Mr Webber said WaterNSW anticipated Upper Namoi customers would be able to access 50 per cent of their carryover: their unused water allocation.
“Trade restriction was an issue: people questioned whether that was justified,” Mr Webber said.
“Our position was that the high losses we were seeing led us to take a conservative approach just in case the high losses continued.
“Once they stabilised, the order was lifted.”
Mr Webber said one of WaterNSW’s priorities was to “mitigate the impact in preparation for the next drought event”.
To that end, the presenters spoke about its June-published study on infrastructure options to address gaps in water supply goals in rural valleys.
For the Namoi Valley, the preferred options include: a new Blue Hole weir and pipeline to Split Rock Dam at $235 million, for water availability; an increase to the size of an outlet works valve at Keepit Dam, for capacity, at $2.3 million; and a transfer pipeline to increase delivery efficiency from Keepit Dam to Boggabri/Maules Creek coal mine, at $178 million.
“If communities, regions, industries are looking for potential avenues to improve the sustainability, the deliverability and the efficiency of water operations in their region in preparation for the next drought, those asset options are a blueprint for that strategy,” Mr Webber said.
North West Magazine spoke to a couple of Manilla attendees.
Bill Plevey irrigates pastures and fodder crops on a property halfway between Manilla and Split Rock Dam, and said “we’re very lucky to have water” in this area.
He had the prospect of accessing 100 per cent of his entitlement this year, and 50 per cent of any unused entitlement carrying over into the next year.
“I consider that be to very fortunate,” he said.
“A lot of people all over the state don’t have [any water].”
Manilla lucerne farmer Sharon Jones said she and husband Keith were “not big irrigators”, but the meeting had been “very informative” and she appreciated WaterNSW holding them.
“We all have to appreciate that there are dozens of communities sharing the same water system,” she said.
“These poor buggers are doing their best to share out a very limited water supply in a record drought.”