NAMOI Valley irrigators fear new restrictions on water usage are covering up a large water loss during WaterNSW’s bulk transfer further down stream.
During a WaterNSW presentation in September, irrigators in the upper catchment were told about 35GL that would be transferred from Split Rock to Keepit, starting on October 20. They expected 46 per cent transmission losses due to evaporation and dry river beds.
An announcement by Department of Industry executive director of water, Rachel Connell, last Tuesday stated “about 14GL of water was lost compared to a typical 3GL” in the transfer.
It followed a WaterNSW announcement that Keepit Dam was likely to be empty by December, reducing Namoi irrigators access to 85pc.
With dam levels under 10pc irrigators are permitted to carryover their remaining water allocations as a back-up drought mitigation measure. But, WaterNSW have confirmed there is no guarantee even carryover water will be available based on the limited supply.
“The severe drought conditions and the associated parched river beds mean that delivery of water involves extensive losses,” they said.
“WaterNSW is working with government authorities to allocate the valley’s dwindling water resources fairly, and for essential needs.”
Without any carryover certainty and inflows, those in the upper catchment could be on a zero per cent allocation from next July.
Bruce Sherwood fears his 28 year Upper Manilla dairy farming operation is under threat to the “man-made drought”.
He has no groundwater, no turkey nest dams and relies on Split Rock dam water allocations as a reservoir for the eight pivots of rye grass and clover crops feeding his 1400 milkers.
Producing 14 million litres a year to the Sydney market, Mr Sherwood employs about 15 people in the region but couldn’t conserve enough feed to keep his operation viable if water becomes unavailable.
“You are not getting paid much for (milk) so you can’t afford to buy in feed to produce the product,” he said.
"Because of the security of the water that was available in this area, we have come and invested a lot of money in these enterprises, which now are at risk because of this. The water sharing plan doesn’t allow for management at critical low levels. There seems to be nothing in place that says, okay when the dam gets to a certain level we need to stop bulk releases.”
The Split Rock Water Users Association licenses equate to about 10,000 ML, meaning transmission losses could have easily filled their requirements, Mr Sherwood said.
“It was a reckless transmission,” he said.
“It could have drought proofed this valley for years.”
The Split Rock Water Users Association has appealed to local member Kevin Anderson and Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair to ensure remaining dam water isn’t wasted.
Association president and Upper Manilla lucerne grower David Gee said they felt like second class citizens.
“People are very hot under the collar that the water sharing plan rule book is being thrown out just as we are the last in line to extract the last viable irrigation water before critical needs becomes the only reason for supply,” he said.
“And yet 100 per cent losses are being incurred in sending this water too far west.”
Not only were there dairies and chicken operations under threat, Mr Gee said their district was keeping half of the north west supplied with fodder, impacting the livestock industry.
“We do know we have to coexist with the cotton industry (further down stream) and we sympathise with their plight,” he said.
“If there is a social license to irrigate, then doing so at the cost of 100 per cent losses can’t be included. It’s just extreme when we are down to the last dregs of both dams that 100 per cent loss is considered tolerable.”
A lack of water in the region could also impact the global market.
Stewart Eykamp, Eykamp Hill, Upper Manilla, is the exclusive grower of 80 hectares of Kikuyu seed and relies on Namoi water for two pivots.
He had sourced extra water allocations earlier in the year as a drought proofing measure, but said his water was now at the expense of reckless misallocation.
“It’s a bit stressful because I don’t know if I’m going to be growing next year,” he said.
“It’s bad enough everyone has been in the worse drought and now everyone who even has a license is going to be in the same boat as them next year.”