Rains boost Murrumbidgee River irrigation forecast ahead of planting

CAPACITY: The view of Blowering Dam from Yellowin Access Road over the Easter weekend. Murrumbidgee dam levels have been boosted by heavy rains this year.
CAPACITY: The view of Blowering Dam from Yellowin Access Road over the Easter weekend. Murrumbidgee dam levels have been boosted by heavy rains this year.

Rising dam levels along the Murrumbidgee River has given irrigators hope for a strong upcoming season after challenging drought conditions.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's water allocation statement had a 100 per cent allocation for general security irrigators with an average carryover of 18 per cent by January 2021.

The indicative estimate is for a 63 per cent allocation by November with normal rainfall in the new water year and "at this early stage, estimates suggest carryover could be close to the maximum allowable limit of 30 per cent of entitlement on average".

Blowering Dam was 76.8 per cent full this week at just under 1260 gigalitres, a significantly higher level than in April 2019 when it was about 700 gigalitres.

Burrinjuck Dam was 86.9 per cent full at 893 gigalitres compared to less than 400 gigalitres in April 2019.

Murrumbidgee Irrigation chief executive Brett Jones said there was an air of optimism around MIA irrigators following the recent rainfall in the catchments.

"It was pleasing to see general security reach 100 per cent this season off the back of a few difficult years previous," he said.

"With the levels in Burrinjuck and Blowering dams also increasing over the past month or so, all hopefully bodes well for another good season for allocations in 2021-22.

"This area is a fantastic example of what a region can do when it has access to productive water, with our producers and industry working together to adapt to the changing nature of water use."

Murrumbidgee irrigator Paul Funnell said the water allocation "gave absolute confidence for planting season".

"To be told you have 100 per cent [general security allocation] plus 18 per cent carryover is an outstanding situation," he said.

"With the [Burrinjuck] Dam at 86 per cent, if we had another storm event like we had a few weeks ago, the dam would be over capacity and we would be under the risk of flood.

"It gives confidence to irrigators to get in and get planting, knowing that they will have the water to continue through."

The DPIE is due to issue another water allocation update on April 15, but its current statement has given preliminary indications of opening water availability for 2021-22.

"The Murrumbidgee regulated system has experienced wet (about 25th percentile) conditions this water year," the statement said.

"That is, based on long term inflow statistics, only 25 out of a 100 years would generally experience conditions that are wetter than those experienced this year."

Mr Funnell said despite the official end to the La Nina weather system, there could still be some additional rain over the next month.

"This is putting things in good stead for another bumper season and gives irrigators confidence where they haven't had any before," he said.

Mr Funnell said it was a "big improvement" from previous seasons.

"Even under those drought conditions, there was still plenty of water there and they should have been giving emergency allocations because they were giving environmental flows to water the bell frog and some trees," he said.

"I'm not saying that's not important, but by the same token, they should have been giving emergency allocations to irrigators so they could grow food for people."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the future forecast for water allocation was 100 per cent for general security and 18 per cent carryover. Those numbers were for the current water year. The Rural apologises for the error.