While the recent deluge of rain in parts of New South Wales (NSW) has offered a moment of reprieve during one of Australia’s longest droughts, rural communities across the state have been urged not to put long-term resource planning on pause.
Speaking with farmers, families and business owners in Yass, Boorowa, Cowra and Orange last month, Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said the drought is far from over.
“The recent downpours were a welcome relief, but people need to understand that many parts of the state did not receive a single drop and that 99% of the state, particularly areas like the far west, central west and southern NSW, remain in drought,” he said.
“I am looking forward to the day I can say the drought has broken but that day is not today.
“The recent rain has given a lot of communities hope for the future but for those who have missed out it is a tough pill to swallow. We will continue to stand by them until this drought breaks.”
Minister for Agriculture and Western NSW Adam Marshall echoed these comments, saying it will take months of sustained and widespread rainfall to break the drought.
“In farming areas, stored soil moisture levels remain very low, which shows the recent rainfall hasn’t provided the nourishing effect needed to improve conditions,” he said.
And, although rainfall has abated water security concerns for urban centres, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) is calling on the NSW state government to reconsider the expansion of the Sydney Desalination Plant.
Policy Officer Douglas McCloskey said desalination should only be used as a last resort.
“Desalination is inefficient and expensive … It already costs every NSW household $85 a year, even when it’s not in use,” he said.
“The recent rains and boost to dam levels have not changed the long-term issues facing the state’s water resources.
“Most of our state remains in long-term water shortage, and the changing climate means we cannot rely on water resources being as available and reliable as they have been in the past.”
McCloskey said now is the time to start putting recycling and reuse ahead of desalination as long-term solutions to water security concerns.
“Water equivalent to 80% of our daily needs is treated and flushed into the ocean after being used just once,” he said.
“There is much opportunity to future-proof our water supply with recycling and reuse.”