17 December 2019

Water woes for Braidwood and beyond as drought dries up Shoalhaven River

| Alex Rea
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Braidwood’s water supply is dropping fast. Photo: Alex Rea.

Level three water restrictions are now in place for Braidwood as the ongoing drought sucks the upper Shoalhaven River dry.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council says Braidwood’s reservoir has dropped significantly, leaving the town with just several months of water supply.

For the Braidwood district, fighting the North Black Range Bushfire for the last two weeks, many rural residents have been left with dry dams and little water to fight any flare ups.

Water carters servicing rural properties surrounding Braidwood have been prohibited from drawing water from the Braidwood supply, and are forced to drive to Captains Flat and Bungendore.

The video below was made by Paul Cockram featuring Braidwood farmer Martin Royds.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Mayor, Cr Tim Overall says that the need to raise the level of restriction is a result of no rain, a rapidly declining primary source of water and high levels of water usage while the community has faced the threat of recent bushfires.

“As the fires begin to subside, we must now face the reality that water usage has understandably, and very reasonably, been higher than we would have liked,” he says.

“That, combined with the Shoalhaven River rapidly declining, means that greater effort now needs to be made to conserve what water we have left.”

Braidwood’s water is pumped from the Shoalhaven River to an off-river storage dam before going through a treatment process and into the town water system.

The dam has a 72 megalitre (mL) capacity and is currently just under 85 per cent full. Braidwood is currently using water quicker than Council can pump it from the river. When the river source is exhausted, the off-river dam will be the only remaining water.

Shoalhaven River at Bombay

The Shoalhaven River at Bombay, near where Braidwood’s water supply is sourced. Photo: Supplied.

“If water consumption stays as it currently is and there is no decent rain soon, water will likely run out in the first few months of next year,” says Mayor Overall.

Council is working with Government on options to prolong Braidwood’s water supply. This includes exemptions and changes to licensing arrangements to allow pumping of water from other sources as well as scaling back on Council’s own activities such as road works.

Council has already announced a temporary suspension of maintenance grading of unsealed rural roads because of the lack of water.

Council is also looking into options if a worst-case scenario eventuates and water sources are exhausted. Like other towns that are already on severe water restrictions around the country, this would see water needing to be trucked into Braidwood.

It’s not just Braidwood affected by the Shoalhaven’s demise. The unassuming Shoalhaven River stretches for 327 km from the mountains south of Braidwood to the sea at Nowra. It is the lifeblood to communities and agriculture along the way and an important contributor to the Sydney Catchment.

Among the Shoalhaven’s 34 tributaries are the pristine Mongarlowe River, the Corang, Endrick, and Kangaroo rivers. Tallowa Dam on the Shoalhaven in the Southern Highlands is a source for Sydney’s drinking water after being pumped up to Lake Burragorang.

In early November, Braidwood’s resident weatherman Roger Hosking sought to query the reading of the Shoalhaven River Water NSW gauge at Warri Bridge.

The river data showed 58 mL per day, but the river appeared almost stopped. After checking, the true reading came back at 0.85mL per day. Shortly after, Water Restrictions were introduced in Sydney.

Water Supply Diagram

Water Supply Diagram for the Shoalhaven River. Image: Sydney Water.

What level three water restrictions mean:

Level 3 water restrictions sets a 35 per cent reduction target based on the long-term average usage for this time of the year.

For the town of Braidwood, this means a total average daily usage target of 360 kilo litres.

The Level 3 restriction means sprinklers cannot be used and lawns cannot be watered. Gardens can only be watered by using a watering can or hand-held trigger nozzle. Watering can only be done between 7:00 am and 10:00 am and between 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm on alternate days under the odds and evens system. The system refers to houses with an odd number street address being able to water on odd-numbered dates (1, 3, 5 etc) and even-numbered houses being able to water on even-numbered dates (2, 4, 6 etc).

Level three also means no emptying, filling or topping up of public or private swimming pools without written exemptions; no cleaning of paved areas, buildings or windows unless required due to an accident, fire or health hazard; no filling of water tanks with other than non-potable water; no washing of any vehicle except at commercial car washes that recycle water or hold an exemption; and other restrictions on use of water in construction.

Businesses and other users may apply for exemptions from the restrictions. These exemptions will be considered by staff on a case-by-case basis.

More info can be found at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council website.

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Thanks for this excellent summary of the situation we are facing in Braidwood.

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