The drought crisis crippling parts of the eastern seaboard may come to a head within weeks as several regional centres are set to completely run out of water within two months.
Parts of regional NSW could run out of water as early as November, with data showing the worst-case scenario for the state if there’s no rain or government intervention.
The projections from NSW’s river operator and bulk water supplier, WaterNSW, show without significant rain, the first towns to lose water supply will be Dubbo, Cobar, Nyngan and Narromine in central NSW, with the Macquarie River forecast to run dry by November.
Normally, the Macquarie River experiences an average inflow of 1448 gigalitres a year, but in the past two years has seen just 97 gigalitres enter the river system, the data, seen by AAP shows.
Meanwhile, the Queensland state government has announced drastic measures to combat the falling water levels and keep some of its regional towns alive.
The NSW situation has been described as “critical” by state Water Minister Melinda Pavey, with the government insisting it’s doing everything it can to make sure the state gets through the devastating drought.
Australia’s longest river – the Murray – has been severely affected with 901 gigalitres of water entering the system in the past 12 months, compared with its annual average of 5000 gigalitres.
The data shows that Menindee Lakes, which is a source of flows for the lower Darling and is a vital fish nursery, received just six gigalitres of water in the past year.
Its annual inflow average is 1387 gigalitres.
The lakes sit within the town of Menindee, which experienced mass fish deaths along the Darling River last summer.
Residents have questioned the drainage of the lakes twice in 2017 with some suggesting the fish carnage wouldn’t have happened if the lakes were full.
The WaterNSW data shows the lakes received 2100 gigalitres of water in 2016-17 followed by just 52 gigalitres of water in 2017-18.
Under the worst-case scenario, the Lachlan River, which runs through the state’s central west, is projected to run dry by March 2020 leaving the towns of Forbes, Cowra and Parkes without water supply.
The river is the fourth-longest in Australia and annually receives an average of 1212 gigalitres of water, but in the last year recorded inflows of just 107 gigalitres.
The state’s north-west, including the small towns of Manilla and Boggabri, could also run out of water by the same date if the upper Namoi River doesn’t receive any rainfall.
A group of rivers that straddle the NSW and Queensland border and supply water to the towns of Boggabilla, Ashford and Goondiwindi, received just 17 gigalitres of inflows in the past year compared to an annual average of 1000 gigalitres.
WaterNSW also predicted the Border rivers will run dry by September 2020 without government intervention and rain.
Water is projected to stop flowing from taps in the northern NSW town of Inverell in March 2021 where the Gwydir River, which usually receives 1141 gigalitres of rain a year, will dry up after just 19 gigalitres entered the system last year.
The data predicts that most of Sydney’s water supply will remain flowing until at least October 2021 when, under the worst-case scenario, the upper Nepean River will run dry.
Australia’s largest urban water-supply dam – Warragamba Dam – is projected to stop flowing by January 2022, according to the data.
Warragamba Dam received 105 gigalitres of water in the last year, compared with its annual average of 1069 gigalitres.
Outlooks for spring and December again point to above-average temperatures.
With the exception of only parts of Western Australia and the west coast of Tasmania, the outlook for rainfall across the country is below average.
Relief for southern Queensland
With less rainfall and high temperatures, it means some governments are resorting to drastic measures to keep towns hydrated.
Over the weekend Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that the Queensland government would provide $800,000 a month to truck in water to drought-stricken Stanthorpe, about 220 kilometres south-west of Brisbane.
Between 30 and 40 trucks will cart the water into the town every day.
A further $2.4 million will be spent on two one-megalitre tanks in Stanthorpe to hold supplies that will be trucked in when the dwindling local dams run out.
The drastic measure will ensure residents of the town will have a secure drinking water supply until 2020.
“With bushfires following the prolonged drought, Stanthorpe will not be left to battle through this alone,” Ms Palaszczuk said.