Water may be pumped from Tallowa Dam to the Sydney water catchment “as soon as this week”, a Water NSW spokesperson has confirmed.
Water restrictions began in the Shoalhaven on Monday, September 3, as water levels fall to 60 per cent at Bamarang Dam.
Level 1 restrictions ban the washing down of hard surfaces such as paths and driveways and encourage residents to be wise about their water usage.
“Level 1 restrictions are about increasing the awareness of the value of water,” Shoalhaven Water director Carmel Krogh said.
“It encourages our community to not be water complacent and to watch every drop.”
As 100 per cent of NSW is now in drought, low-level pumping from Tallowa Dam, which provides water to the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands regions, may commence some time this week.
According to the 2017 Metropolitan Water Plan, WaterNSW planned to transfer water from the Tallowa Dam on the Shoalhaven River when Sydney Water levels dropped to 75 per cent.
However, a WaterNSW spokesperson said under operating rules introduced in 2012, WaterNSW could only pump from the top one metre of the storage to provide for Sydney’s water supply, or 7.5 gigalitres of Tallowa Dam’s total capacity of 90GL.
“Of the top one metre that can be pumped to Sydney, the volume currently available for transfers to Sydney is 27 per cent of the 7.5GL total or 2.06GL,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson assured residents that withdrawing water from Tallowa Dam would not have a detrimental impact on Shoalhaven water supply.
“Tallowa Dam has historically proven to be a reliable source of supply for the Shoalhaven, and it continues to provide a high level of security with the storage total capacity currently at 93 per cent,” the spokesperson said.
Low volume pumping could commence “as soon as this week”.
Despite this, NSW Greens Urban Water spokesperson Justin Field said water should not be transferred out of the Shoalhaven.
“These transfers from the Shoalhaven are hugely energy intensive and leave our river system with less water for local use, energy generation and environmental supplies,” he said.
“As a general principle, water shouldn’t be transferred across catchments. We need to manage water use within natural catchments in a sustainable way.”
Mr Field said more needed to be done to ensure long-term water security for NSW residents.
“The NSW Government has failed the community when it comes to local water security,” he said.
“They haven’t learned the lesson of the Millennium drought and have left residents exposed to major water restrictions in the future.
“Ultimately we can only address long-term water security issues by getting serious about water efficiency and investing in greater recycling and reuse.”
Sydney’s desalination plant, currently in “care and maintenance mode”, will be restarted once Sydney’s catchment falls below 60 per cent.
Mr Field said the plant had created a false sense of security for residents.
“With 100 per cent of the state in drought and suffering its driest autumn since 2006, Sydney’s main water storage levels have dropped a quarter in the past 12 months to just 65 per cent,” he said.
“While a 60 per cent level is supposed to trigger the activation of the desalination plant, it may not be fully operational for another 12 months with damage from a 2015 tornado only having been recently repaired.”