Despite the wide brown land it resides in, Bega Valley Shire Council has voted not to impose water restrictions, pointing to the relatively strong position the region finds itself in.
The recommendation before Councillors McBain, Tapscott, Dodds, Griff, Allen, Fitzpatrick, Bain, Nadin and Seckold originally pointed to temporary level 1 water restrictions for Bemboka village, instead, a motion from Cobargo’s Tony Allen to stop that won unanimous support.
The gist of the discussion was that imposing such measures would achieve very little and not necessarily keep water in the dam.
Water for Bemboka township is supplied from Cochrane Dam, on Brown Mountain, at the headwaters of the Bemboka River. The dam, which is a privately owned hydro-electricity generation facility, has recently reached its drought reserve level of 500 megalitres (ML – 100,0000 litres) of its total capacity of 2700 ML.
In the absence of any recent rainfall, dam levels continue to decline and are currently around 16.9% or 456 ML – which adds up to 130 days of water.
Water from Cochrane Dam is released in accordance with the Water Sharing Plan that covers townsfolk, environmental flows, farm irrigation and stock and domestic use – a document council says needs to be revised and updated.
Approximately 3.5 ML is currently released from the dam each day to meet these demands. The town supply represents a relatively small proportion – on average 0.18 ML per day or 0.3% of the daily release.
Farmers along the catchment have already stopped drawing water from the river for their pastures.
“Given continued dry conditions; diminishing storage; and reduced flows in the system it is recommended that Council introduce level 1 water restrictions for the Bemboka town water supply,” in accordance with the Shire’s Drought Management Action Plan, the staff report to Councillors said.
Instead, councillors decided not to impose restrictions on the urban areas of Bemboka, or more broadly across the shire as suggested in the community discussion leading up to yesterday’s meeting.
Acting Director of Assets and Operations, Chris Best pointed to the relatively positive state of the shire’s water supplies, giving councillors confidence that the region was well placed to see out the peak tourist season and the forecast dry times ahead.
Yellow Pinch Dam is currently at 75% capacity, water restrictions are trigged at 65%, which without rain, Mr Best suggested would come in February.
Ben Boyd Dam is at 90%, the expansive Brogo Dam is at 36% with restrictions possible in January, while the Bega River Aquifer is at 6.2 metres, with water restrictions on the table at 4.2 metres.
The Yellow Pinch Pipeline that links the subterranean water-rich Bega River Aquifer with Merimbula and Eden was hailed by councillors as being key to their confidence. And the ability to truck water to Bemboka if needed, given the size of local water reserves.
“We’ve done what’s required to be in this position,” Cr Allen told the chamber.
The veteran councillor spoke with passion about the decision and the cost burden on the shire to build the pipeline, which opened in 2012, a point echoed by Cr Russell Fitzpatrick, “this is why you pay your rates” Cr Fitzpatrick said.
Mayor Kristy McBain suggested the headline on any news story should be “Good Water Management”.
“Congratulations to Bega Valley Shire Council, who has over many years ensured that we aren’t required to put water restrictions on the community at a time of significant drought,” Cr McBain said.
“However this council does recognise water is a precious resource, on council’s website there are a number of water-wise tips.
“I hope we don’t get a backlash about not implementing water restrictions the comment should be around – well done on securing out water security.”
Cr Dodds said, “despite us not imposing restrictions I hope people still think about how they use water.”
Cr Allen adding, “If you don’t want to use water – don’t. But ratepayers have paid to be in this position.”
Cr Cathy Griff was concerned talk of wider water restrictions early next year wasn’t far away, “we are facing a summer that is going to be incredibly harsh.”
The adopted resolution does require council to write to the relevant Ministers seeking a modification of the water management arrangments connected to Cochrane Dam, the suggestion being that there needs to be a better balance between the needs of town water users, irrigators and the environment.
Council has also agreed to hold a forum with key water users across the shire with the aim of further improving the Bega Valley’s water security. One suggestion canvassed was raising the wall of Brogo Dam by five metres as well as plugging Bemboka into a pipeline similar to Yellow Pinch.