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Resisting drought in rural New South Wales: perseverance and resilience

  • Resisting drought in rural New South Wales: perseverance and resilience

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Australia is suffering one of its worst droughts on record. According to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology, rainfall deficiencies have affected most of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian parts of the Murray–Darling Basin since the start of 2017.

Water levels in Greater Sydney’s 11 reservoirs are now at 48%, with level 1 restrictions in place since June 1. Meanwhile, a desalination plant is working to top up the supply. Above average September rainfall in Sydney did not replenish its major water storages.

But in rural areas water shortages are more serious. Currently, water restrictions and plans for emergency infrastructure are in place as the towns in NSW are running dry, with 97.2% of the state experiencing drought, reports The Guardian.

Data from the state’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment document 40 water dams with less than six months’ supply if a worst case drought scenario persists. Larger towns like Tamworth, Orange and Dubbo, which together are home to some 140,000 people, have been identified as high risk.

According to WaterNSW ─ the public corporation in charge of the state’s water supply systems ─ the past six months have seen the lowest recorded inflows in history (the amount of water entering the river and its storages). They warn that even though effective management of these storages has extended water availability, without imminent inflows, the lack of water will continue to impact water quality and the riverine environment, while limiting agricultural production.

Most rural communities have implemented different levels of water restrictions. Residential restrictions apply to outdoor water use, like watering lawns and gardens, filling pools or washing cars, while full loads of laundry and short showers are encouraged.

Meanwhile, local authorities are trying to appease fears about running out of water, stressing that predictions of looming water disaster do not take into account back-up systems. These include additional bores, water diversions, pipelines and emergency infrastructure like pumps and weirs.

On the other hand, the current situation is also seen as an opportunity: the beginning of a behavioural change concerning water use patterns that will be useful into the future. Also on a positive note, the shortages are likely to accelerate looking into more sustainable options to source water, like stormwater harvesting and recycled water.

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