Sydney Water Levels Are Dropping, But Is There A Backup?
Calls to enforce water restrictions a 'silly solution', says Utilities Minister.
Pressure is mounting on the New South Wales government to address a looming water shortage amid concerns the state's backup -- a multi million dollar desalination plant -- might not be ready in time.
But Utilities Minister Don Harwin is confident calls for early water restrictions are not needed, telling Ten Eyewitness News they are "not likely to happen in the near future at all".
With a drought continuing to take hold of New South Wales -- it's driest Autumn since 2006 -- Sydney's water levels are dropping at a rate that could mean the city's privately run desalination plant in Kurnell could be turned on for the first time to produce commercial quantities of drinking water.
Dam levels for the Greater Sydney region are sitting at 64.9 percent, according to latest reading on Thursday, down one quarter in 12 months and 0.6 percent in the last week.
About 80 percent of the city's water comes from Warragamba Dam, which at last reading, is at 68.2 percent capacity. Last month, it was at 69.9 percent. This time last year, it was at 90.6 percent.
A decline in dam levels to 60 percent would trigger the activation of the plant, under Sydney's Metropolitan Water Plan. But authorities have admitted that it could be months before the plant is fully operational.
"We have dam levels falling at an alarming rate with no relief," Greens MP and spokeswoman for environment Cate Faehrmann told Ten News.
"What we have is this government who has a desalination plant that is not ready."
The desal plant, commissioned by the former Labor government during the "Millennium Drought" last decade, has been under repair after cyclonic storms back in 2015.
Utilities Minister Don Harwin confirmed to Ten News the plant is currently in a testing phase following construction work.
"It will be ready as planned to commission if we reach just 60 percent in our catchments in the middle of December," he said, echoing calls he made to state parliament less than two weeks ago.
"We expect that water will be coming into the system from the desal plant shortly thereafter -- within a couple of months -- and the whole commissioning process should take no longer than six to eight months."
But with no rainfall in sight, and a calculated 0.6 percent reduction in dam levels each week, that trigger point could come much sooner.
Minister Harwin said there is no need for panic.
"Sydney has enough water in its catchments, even assuming there is no rain at all, to last for two years," he said.
"Sydney is in no danger of running out of water.
"We are monitoring the situation very closely and if there is any need to change the triggers ... we'll act straight away."
The minister refuted calls from Greens MPs and others who want the state government to enforce early water restrictions that Harwin said are brought on when catchments reach a "certain level".
"We know that our dams are dropping at an alarming rate. We know that sooner rather than later, they will reach 60 percent. We need to see our water restrictions put in straight away," Faerhman said.
"It's reckless and lazy behaviour by a minister who frankly isn't taking Sydney's water concerns seriously."
Harwin called them a "silly solution".
"There's no need for them. What the Greens and others who support this are completely overlooking is that when water restrictions come in, they affect industry and business," he said.
"I certainly hope we won't have to (bring them in). At the moment, it's completely unnecessary."