WITH predictions of another long, dry summer on the Far South Coast, local water managers have turned to lessons learnt from the region’s most recent drought.
At a ‘drought debriefing’ in May by the South Coast Water Management Committee, the 10 driest months on record in the Bega Valley – April 2002 to February 2003 – were analysed to identify impacts and lessons.
According to the senior natural resource officer with the Department of
Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Don McPhee, the meeting highlighted that overall the impact of the drought was moderate, but there were high impacts in some sectors.
“Many farm businesses have suffered severe financial impacts and high family stress levels as a result of the drought,” he said.
“The flow-on effects have been felt throughout the local economy and impacts were particularly high in some rural areas where water supplies in local rivers were scarce.
“Across the Far South Coast many farm dams were dry or near to dry by mid-February 2003 and previously reliable emergency supplies (eg springs and sumps dug into sandy river beds) were starting to fail rapidly.
“Only the rains in late February 2003 eased a critical situation for stock water, rural domestic and some town water sources.
“Now seven months on, flows in many of the Far South Coast’s rivers have again dropped with the warm and windy spring weather.
“It is timely for everyone in the community to learn from some of the key lessons we learnt from the previous drought,” Mr McPhee said.
Lesson 1: The water in our rivers has to be shared
• Cut back on water use that is non-essential;
• Cut back on the amount you pump from rivers as flows drop-off. Remember that others living downstream need it too;
• Don’t pump river pools down to low levels and never stop the stream from flowing. Keeping pools full means that any fresh flows can be passed quickly downstream, helping to keep the whole length of the river alive.
• Remember that the environment has a right to water too. River pools provide a refuge for fish and other creatures during drought. Also birds and animals will rely for survival on their local river pool for drinking water.
• Commercial irrigators must observe the access conditions on their water licence and cease pumping when the flows drop below the trigger level.
• Many local rivers have Cease To Pump conditions, linked to flows measured at a river gauge. Irrigators are obliged to observe these conditions.
• Information on river flows is available from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources website (http://waterinfo.dlwc.nsw.gov.au) or from the Department’s Bega Office (phone 6291 6200).
Lesson 2: Store enough water to last through the summer
• In the past too many rural households have been too reliant upon streams and springs for their domestic water. This over-reliance causes real problems when these sources fail in a severe drought.
• In most cases there has not been enough winter rainfall to replenish the headwaters and groundwater reserves that keep our rivers flowing in dry periods. You should not put all your reliance on water sources that may well fail again in the coming summer.
• Bigger rainwater tanks are needed. Recommended rainwater storage volume for an average rural household in this region is 90,000 litres (20,000 gallons).
• Farms carrying livestock need to plan farm water supplies so that they can last through a drought. For many farms this will mean building new storage dams or drilling groundwater bores where suitable.
• Contact the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources for advice on farm water plans and for the necessary works-licensing approvals.
• If capital funds are short then alternative drought management strategies can be developed (eg progressively de-stock as drought conditions worsen and reduce the demand on limited water and feed supplies).
• Top up your house tanks now, and then use the water sparingly. The water may have to last for several months and remember that water quality may decline with very low flows.
• If you must pump when flows are very low then roster with neighbours to reduce the pressure on your stream.
• If you must dig in the sand to get to water then there are guidelines that must be followed and/or a permit may be required.
• Actively try to change your water needs. Adopt some of the many useful waterwise tips that are available in brochures from Council or from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.