HORROR SIGHT: Tenterfield Dam is at 26 per cent capacity.
HORROR SIGHT: Tenterfield Dam is at 26 per cent capacity. ABC News

Damn, it's getting tight for water in our dams

WITH no substantial rainfall in sight, all thoughts are turning to the hot and dry summer ahead as water supplies start dwindling across the region amid drought conditions.

According to WaterNSW data, Toonumbar Dam near Kyogle has lost seven per cent of its capacity in just under a month.

The data shows the dam, which was sitting at 55 per cent capacity on September 16 of this year, has dropped to 47 per cent as of October 15.

This means there could be as little as 5000 megalitres of water remaining in the dam.

A spokesman for WaterNSW said Toonumbar is a small storage compared to major irrigation storages around the state, with a capacity of 11,000 megalitres.

"Releases are currently focused on meeting irrigation needs along Iron Pot Creek and water sharing plan requirements to have a visible flow at the bottom end of the system," he said.

"Extremely dry conditions across the catchment has resulted in very low inflows. With continued releases to meet customer and operation rules, the system is continuing to fall."

The spokesman said the dam was full in late 2018 and has steadily fallen during 2019 due to the drought conditions across the state.

"The decrease is expected to continue as it gets warmer and without inflows occurring," he said.

"However, the dam can continue to meet demands in the region, with the ability to draw the storage down to very low levels."

The spokesman said the current conditions are similar to previous droughts, with Toonumbar storage dropping to around 10 per cent in 2002/03.

"Being a small storage, the system can recover very quickly with storm events across the catchment," he said.

The dry weather has been widespread across the northern NSW region, with residents in Tenterfield scrambling to conserve as much water as possible.

Amid a number of failed attempts to create emergency water bores, the town's drinking water supply at Tenterfield Dam is down to as low as 26 per cent capacity.

However Tenterfield Shire Council has warned there could be up to 2.8 metres of silt in the base of the dam, which further decreases the amount of water actually able to be used.

Council documents from June show the "worst case scenario" report, which warns the town could run out of water by January 2020 with no substantial rainfall.

According to the Rous County Council website, Rocky Creek Dam, which supplies water to the majority of coastal Northern Rivers, has also experienced a drop during previous weeks, with the dam capacity falling from 92 per cent in mid September to 87 per cent on October 14.

The major dam supplies drinking water to an area stretching from Woodburn in the south, north to Ocean Shores and west to Lismore, and is supplemented by Emigrant Creek Dam, the Wilsons River Source and several bore sites.

Which councils are on water restrictions?

  • Kyogle: Kyogle, Urbenville, Muli Muli and Woodenbong are currently on Level 2 water restrictions, while Bonalbo is on Level 3 water restrictions.
  • Richmond Valley: Casino and surrounds are currently on Level 3 water restrictions, while there are no current water restrictions for the Mid Richmond towns of Coraki, Woodburn, Evans Head, Broadwater and Rileys Hill.
  • Tenterfield: Tenterfield is currently on Level 4.5 water restrictions.
  • There are no water restrictions in place for Byron Shire Council, Lismore City Council or Ballina Shire Council.

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