Kempsey Shire Council Water and Sewer Manager Wesley Trotter is urging residents to apply a conservative approach to their water use as the Steuart Mcintyre Dam's water level is now entirely reliant on rainfall.
Despite historically low rainfall in the region this year, the Steuart Mcintyre Dam has increased in capacity from 68 per cent to approximately 80 per cent through the pumping of high quality water from the Sherwood Borefield.
However, the severe drought and lack of rainfall made the process impossible last month and it has since resulted in the dam's water level dropping around three per cent.
The Macleay River is quickly approaching a standstill, which has already prevented Mr Trotter and his team from using the Sherwood Recharge Channel to increase the water levels in the bores.
The low river flow has also led to the water quality at Willawarrin moving outside of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Bellbrook's water supply is expected to meet a similar fate within the week.
Trucks are now supplying approximately 17,000 litres of water from the Steuart Mcintyre Dam to Willawarrin and a similar amount is expected to be used to supply Bellbrook from early this week.
"Trucks started supplying water to Willawarrin about two weeks ago. They didn't run out of water but they ran out of quality water," Mr Trotter told the Argus.
"With the river as stressed as it is, high Iron and Manganese levels led to it becoming undrinkable and has forced us to start supplying the town with trucked water.
"The river flow is dropping at a very quick rate, so we are looking at early this week that we will have no flow at George's Junction. This will require us to start trucking water to Bellbrook as well."
The Macleay River is nearing a standstill at the Sherwood Bridge. The river will become stagnant at George’s Junction this week, forcing water to be trucked to Bellbrook. Willawarrin became reliant on trucked water two weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/kdevaZSOMm— Callum McGregor (@CalMcGregor93) October 27, 2019
The approximate 1900 megalitres in the Steuart Mcintyre Dam is expected to last 15 months, (without additional rainfall and it's dependent on quality) but ahead of a predicted dry summer and with additional regions requiring water from the dam, Mr Trotter foresees higher water restrictions placed on Macleay residents to preserve its longevity.
"The dam level is really going to start to take a hit now," he said.
"With the current forecast, I don't think we will be heading back to level one anytime soon, if anything, it's going to progress to a level three and possibly four.
"With the river how it is, we can't use our bore field and it's only going to get worse looking at the weather predictions.
"This is our last remaining water supply."
The Macleay is currently under level two water restrictions but Mr Trotter said level three will most likely be activated if the dam's capacity drops to below 70 per cent.
"There will be a trigger point if we got down to around 68 per cent capacity," Mr Trotter said.
"Level three will look similar to what we have now but there will be a shorter watering periods and there will be more restrictions placed on local businesses in the valley."
While Mr Trotter is concerned the town's water supply now relies on rainfall, he suggests the most dangerous threat is the build-up of algae.
"This dam is notorious for having a problem with algae and I think that's the biggest threat," he said.
"It would have to be a toxic species to stop the water flow but that hasn't happened in this dam before.
"The impact of the algae on the water depends on species and lots of things. The algae that we usually get complicate the processes that we do have on site to treat the water and they require some extra steps to make it drinkable."
The water and sewer team have recently installed two ultrasonic algae control equipment in the dam to battle the algae.
The equipment sends ultrasonic pulses into the water which causes cavitation in the algae cells and they sink to the bottom of the dam.
For the Steuart Mcintyre Dam to increase its water level and to once again pump water from the bores and river, Mr Trotter claims significant and consistent rainfall needs to occur.
"This dam is off creek storage, so basically there's very little catchment, rainfall doesn't affect the dam as much but what rainfall will affect is the river and the ability to be able to recharge the bores and that's what gives us the capacity to pump water up to the Steuart Mcintyre Dam," Mr Trotter said.
"Realistically, what we need is good rain with consistent follow up, that's going to be the key to it. If we just have one dump of rain, it really doesn't help us that much because the ground is so dry at the moment that any isolated storms or rain that we are getting up in the hills doesn't end up in the river, the ground is just soaking it up.
"It's that consistent rainfall that we need for a while to increase the ground's moisture and get the river flowing, that's the main thing."
With 15-months of water remaining for the community and minimal rain on the forecast, Mr Trotter's message to the community is simple.
"Conserve as much water as you can from your day-to-day life," he said.
"Everyone should take steps towards monitoring how much and what they are using their water for.
"It will obviously contribute to the water lasting longer."
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