The Dubbo Region is significantly in the grips of the current worsening drought situation.

Water modelling projections provided to Dubbo Regional Council by the NSW Government predict a significant impact on the Macquarie River water supply from Burrendong Dam, the region’s main dam, by the end of the year without the Government taking immediate action.

Based on that modelling, WaterNSW has identified that the worst-case scenario of no inflows into the river system, the Macquarie River will hit ‘cease to flow’ in May 2020.

DRC understands that the NSW Government’s water resilience initiatives include pumping water from deep storage within Burrendong Dam, bulk water transfer into Burrendong Dam from outlying dams, damming the Macquarie River downstream at Warren, and preserving the current water in the river for human consumption, high security licenses and ecological sustainability.

In response to the dire predictions from as early as late 2018, Dubbo Regional Council has been working since January 2019 on developing and further investigating:

  • Expansion of current groundwater supplies and development of new groundwater sources.
  • Effluent re-use, which could be used initially as substitute water in lieu of potable water, or to enable Council to access additional groundwater, and ultimately for use in a Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) scheme.
  • Stormwater harvesting.
  • Re-use of backwash water at the water filtration plants.
  • Inter-connecting pipelines between new water sources between Dubbo and Wellington.
  • Implementing a comprehensive and ongoing Community Engagement Strategy, aimed at ensuring all sections of the community can participate actively in water conservation activities, both at the residential as well as enterprise level.
  • Reviewing Council’s water restriction regime to better reflect community expectations.
  • Creating a media and communications strategy to respond to our current water crisis and community engagement outcomes.

In conjunction with staff from Department of Primary Industries and Environment (DPIE), Council has identified a number of potential groundwater (bore) options. Council’s existing groundwater entitlement of 3,850 ML/a is located within the Upper Macquarie Alluvial Aquifer, which extends from Wellington to east of Narromine. This supply is significantly over allocated and current usage is in excess of the extraction limit for this supply. The current level of extraction by Council from this aquifer is around 2,200 ML/a, well below its entitlement.
Apart from a period in the early 1980s, as well as two occasions during the 1990s, over the past three decades Council has been quite conservative in its use of groundwater. In the early 2000s Council agreed to a voluntary 50% reduction in its groundwater (bore) use to reduce overall demand on the aquifer, an approach which has effectively remained in place ever since. The need now exists for Council to increase its groundwater extraction at least to the level of its actual entitlement.

Dubbo Regional Council, an end-user of the State Government controlled water, relies on the allocations set by NSW Government when distributing water to users in the local government area. Even if new bore sites are established, DRC is still subject to the allocation conditions set by the State Government in regard to extraction of bore water.

The reality is, new bores are not the ‘silver bullet’ to the crisis and cannot be relied upon without also considering such things as:

  • Council’s own awareness and need to change its water usage.
  • The community’s own awareness and empowerment to change its water usage.
  • The volume of flow down the Macquarie River as controlled by the NSW Government.
  • The greater regulation of irrigation and private bores that also draw on the same underground aquifer that Dubbo’s new bores will also rely upon.
  • Greater use of harnessing stormwater when it does rain.
  • Greater use of recycled water and treated effluent to offset water loss and waste.

Dubbo Regional Council is also looking at actively seeking to acquire additional entitlements through the established water trading market, either on a temporary basis to get through the existing drought or, on a more permanent basis, to help improve this supply option over the longer term. These can be sourced from existing active license holders.

Wellington currently has very limited groundwater, with an entitlement of 350 ML/a on a bore which is currently not operating at Montefiores. Therefore, due to its full reliance on river supply currently, there is an urgent need to develop additional water sources for Wellington.
A number of new groundwater options have been identified and it is proposed to seek approval to drill a number of test bores in the near future to establish the viability of these options.

Last Edited: 17 Sep 2019

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