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Sydney told to expect water restrictions ‘soon’ as dam levels dive

Sydney’s dams have dropped about a quarter of their volume in the past year to sit at 53.9 per cent full as of Wednesday, WaterNSW data show.

At current rates of decline, the first stage of water restrictions would take effect in about 10 weeks’ time when capacity drops below half. Planning for the second stage of the Sydney Desalination Plant would also begin, according to the Metropolitan Water Plan.

However, attendees at the Ozwater’19 conference this month learned the planned first stage of water curbs may be insufficient. They entail merely enforcing the so-called Water Wise Rules, such as avoiding watering gardens between 10am and 4pm to avoid evaporation losses, and installing trigger hoses.

Stuart Khan, a professor in the University of NSW’s School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said few people did such watering anyway and most already had such trigger devices.

Speakers at the conference made it clear the public had already taken up many of the behavioral changes prompted by the last big dry event, he said.

Water engineers “don’t any expect anywhere near the elasticity in water use we saw during the Millennium Drought”, Professor Khan said.

Dam levels were “dropping faster than they have in decades”, a spokesman for Sydney Water said. “Over the last two years dam levels have dropped faster than the average rate during the Millennium Drought.”

Average water use is now about 200 litres per person a day in Sydney, down from around 250 litres before the big drought set in.

Total water demand in the first four months of 2019 was about 8 per cent lower than the same period last year – 192 billion litres compared with 209 billion litres. That was one sign consumers were already “doing their bit” to curtail water use, especially during the past summer, the Sydney Water spokesman said.

Ms Pavey said it was important that Sydneysiders understood the scale of the impact of the drought in NSW.

This week, Dubbo in north-west NSW will finally join neighbouring towns by imposing water restrictions on its population of about 40,000.

It will jump straight to level-2 restrictions while other regions are facing level-4 or worse.

Ms Pavey welcomed Dubbo’s move and noted “the significant sacrifices made by all water users, including the 30 per cent quarantining of carryover water announced in September”, her spokeswoman said.

“This ensured the high-security town supply has been sustained at 100 per cent allocation to this point, despite record-low inflows into Burrendong Dam over the past two years,” she said.

Burrendong Dam is sitting at 6 per cent, while the Keepit Dam on the Namoi River, is sitting at 0.9 per cent full, according to WaterNSW.

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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