Koree Island farmer says drought needs tighter water restrictions

DRYING UP: Koree Island farmer Dennis Pelham stands on the Hastings River bed where the water used to be over his head. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.
DRYING UP: Koree Island farmer Dennis Pelham stands on the Hastings River bed where the water used to be over his head. Photo: Letitia Fitzpatrick.

A Koree Island farmer says the Hastings River has dried up dramatically and wants the council to introduce tighter water restrictions.

Dennis Pelham, who lives west of Wauchope, has been farming there for 27 years and has never seen the Hastings River so low.

His property fronts 2.5km of the Hastings River near the council's Koree Island pumping station and he's very concerned that the water level has gone from head deep to a stream.

He says the council has not pumped water from the river for about two months.

"I would like the council to increase water restrictions because people in town do not realise how serious the situation is. Trees are dying and we have lost a cow which got stuck in the mud," said Mr Pelham.

"The local farmers all know about it. I used to go and swim and the water would be over my head, and now it's just a trickle with dry stones on the river bed. The farmers are running out of water in tanks. It's bad. We are in deep trouble."

He says we are only weeks away from an influx of holiday tourists who will use lots of water, and the dams aren't full.

Mr Pelham added that a council employee told him that the bottom 10 per cent of the council's reservoir water is sludge and that the next 10 per cent above is contaminated and that the council dam's water storage is only 55 per cent full.

Current dam levels, updated on October 16, show that Port Macquarie Dam is at 77.6 per cent and Cowarra Dam is at 48 per cent and the total storage level is 53.8 per cent.

A council spokesman said they don't comment on individual cases. The council brought in Level 2 high water restrictions at the start of September. They are:

  • water sprinklers are banned
  • one hand-held hose can be used for a maximum of 30 MINUTESbefore 9amor after 4pm on odd or even days matching house number
  • hoses must be fitted with water cut-off triggers or control nozzles
  • micro-sprays, with nozzles less then 3mm, and drip irrigation systems can be used for a maximum of 15 minutesbefore 9am or after 4pm on odd or even days matching house number
  • washing driveways, paved areas, walls and roofs with hoses is banned, however buckets can be used during the above days and times
  • no domestic water use outside the home on the 31st day of the month
  • one hand-held hose can be used to top up swimming pools, during the above days and times only
  • watering-cans and buckets can be used at any time
  • car and boat washing (on lawn area) with a bucket and one hand-held hose (for rinsing only) before 9am or after 4pm on odd or even days matching house number
  • boat motor flushing for 5 minutes on lawn area only on day of use
  • sporting field irrigation systems can only be used from 1am to 1.30am Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • hand-held hoses can be used in public/community gardens from 7am to 7.30am Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • hand-held hoses can be used at nurseries, bowling greens and commercial market gardens between 7.30am and 9.30am per day - dust suppression is permitted with reclaimed water only
  • businesses and commercial activities that utilise water for their normal business are exempt (other than plant nurseries, bowling greens and commercial market gardens), e.g. high-pressure water cleaning businesses. All other businesses must use a hand-held hose (with cut-off trigger or control nozzle) for a maximum of 30 minutes before 9am and after 4pm, on 'odd or even' date according to property number.

The Hastings River is 165 kilometres long and is the main river in the catchment area. The river starts as groundwater in the Race Course Swamp in the Werrikimbe National Park.

The catchment comprises an area of 3,846 square kilometres and stretches from the Mount Seaview Range, down the Hastings Valley, across rural landscapes and through towns to the sea. The catchment is only one-third the size of the nearby Macleay River catchment, which is about 12,000 square kilometres.

The major tributary of the lower Hastings River is the Wilson River with other major upper tributaries being the Forbes, Ellenborough and Thone Rivers, and Pappinbarra Creek.

Council pumps water from the Hastings River at Koree Island (5km south-west of Wauchope), which is approximately 2 kilometres upstream of the tidal limit on the river.

Pumping from the river can only be undertaken when a number of strict conditions are met:

Nutrient levels - nutrients in storage dams can lead to the growth of algae which affects water quality. Nutrient levels are often high after rainfall events due to runoff, and pumping must cease in these instances.

Turbidity - turbidity is a measure of suspended particles in the water. Turbidity can impede the disinfection process allowing the growth of pathogens which can cause illness.

River flow - extraction is dependent on river levels to maintain the natural environment. When flows fall below the monthly environmental flow target, pumping must cease to protect aquatic species such as fish, platypus and plants.

These conditions are monitored to ensure extraction is only undertaken within the permissable limits.

When no pumping is undertaken, consumers are then supplied from either the Port Macquarie or Cowarra storage dams.

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