Illawarra residents’ water usage is up and the region’s dam levels are down as the prolonged dry spell wreaks havoc with supplies.
As farmers truck in hay and other fodder to feed starving stock in parched paddocks, the effects of the big dry have also been felt in urban areas.
Residential water consumption in Wollongong and across the Illawarra during the first six months of 2018 was up on last year, according to Sydney Water.
The region’s total water demand for the year to date was about five per cent higher than that during the same period in 2017, a Sydney Water spokesman said.
The rise has been attributed to the persistent dry weather.
The figures show coastal areas haven’t been immune to the big dry gripping most of the state, with Illawarra residents across Sydney Water’s supply area (from Coledale to Gerroa) increasingly turning on their taps to keep parched lawns and gardens alive.
Bellambi recorded its driest July on record last month.
A meagre 1.6mm – or just two per cent of the typical monthly average (73.3mm) – was tipped out of the suburb’s rain gauge.
Last month’s precipitation, or lack of it, delivered the coastal suburb its lowest July rainfall in 22 years of records.
While June rainfall was closer to average at Bellambi, drier-than-usual totals have been recorded there every month this year.
Below-average rain has also been experienced away from the coast.
Albion Park had just nine per cent of its typical July rainfall last month, with 4.6mm recorded at the Bureau of Meteorology’s weather station at the Illawarra Regional Airport.
Wollongong and the entire Illawarra are listed as being in “intense drought” on the state government’s combined drought indicator, which takes into account rainfall, soil moisture and plant growth data.
Despite the serious rainfall deficiencies across the region, Sydney Water said water restrictions weren’t being considered for Wollongong at this stage.
“Sydney’s water supply is secured through the Metropolitan Water Plan,” the spokesman said.
“It‘s an orderly plan to ensure there is sufficient water to meet the needs of the people and environment of the Greater Sydney region, now and for the future.”
The effects of the deepening drought can be seen in the latest dam levels across the Greater Sydney catchment, part of which delivers water to the Illawarra.
The Illawarra’s main water supply comes from Avon Dam, a 10.5-square-kilometre body of water west of Wollongong, which currently sits at 64 per cent of capacity.
The storage has fallen from 91.4 per cent a year ago. Low rainfall in its 142sqkm catchment meant there had been minimal inflows, a WaterNSW spokesman said.
Despite the drop in water level, the spokesman said the Avon storage could be supplemented with water from nearby Nepean Dam, should it be required.
A tunnel between the two dams allows for the transfer of water to the Illawarra system from the Shoalhaven.
Avon is the second-largest dam in the Greater Sydney catchment area, behind Warragamba. However, Avon’s catchment area is much smaller than that of Warragamba’s 9051sqkm footprint.
Just a stone’s throw from Wollongong sits Cordeaux Dam, which is currently a shadow of its former self.
The storage – which has a capacity of 93,640 megalitres – was just 41.9 per cent full on Thursday.
The rapidly-receding water level has left large sections of the 7.8sqkm storage exposed.
The water marks visible on the dam’s wall tell of better times – like this time last year, when Cordeaux was about 94 per cent full.
The dam – which can be accessed by the public off Picton Road – supplies water to the Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly council areas via the Macarthur water filtration plant.
At nearby Cataract Dam – which also supplies water to Camden, Campbelltown and the Wollondilly – the volume of water has more than halved in the past 12 months.
On Thursday, the 97,190-megalitre reservoir had 36,715 megalitres of water in it; 37.8 per cent of its capacity.
Cataract is one of the oldest dams in the Greater Sydney catchment area and the first of four dams built to collect water from the Illawarra Plateau, according to WaterNSW.
The Nepean Dam – which was at 55.6 per cent of capacity on Thursday – supplies Bargo, Thirlmere, Picton and The Oaks.
The dam – located near Bargo – forms part of WaterNSW’s Nepean system, along with the Avon, Cataract and Cordeaux dams.
The system supplies water to Sydney, as well as the Macarthur and Illawarra regions. Nepean Dam can be topped up with water from the Shoalhaven and Kangaroo rivers when required.
The supplementary water comes from Tallowa Dam, west of Nowra. The Tallowa storage is used by Shoalhaven City Council to supply water to the Nowra area.
The Woronora Dam, west of Waterfall, supplies water to residents across parts of the Sutherland Shire, as well as Helensburgh, Stanwell Park and the northern Illawarra.
The storage was the healthiest of the five Illawarra dams on Thursday, sitting at 65.1 per cent of capacity.