People v power station as water levels plunge
Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday November 19, 2009
A FIGHT over dwindling water supplies is brewing at Oberon, where the lion's share of the local dam supply is being diverted to keep a nearby coal-fired power station running.Oberon Council has accused Wallerawang power station of hoarding water while the township, which uses less than 2 million litres a day against the power station's allocation of 9 million, is suffering under water restrictions. The Oberon Dam level reached a record low of 12.5 per cent this week, before what is expected to be a particularly hot, dry summer.Nearby in Orange, where the city's dam is down to 30 per cent, a council meeting tonight will consider plans to avoid going to "level six" water restrictions - the highest level - in the next six months.Further west in the Lachlan Valley, where flows from Wyangala Dam had to be halved this month, the Government has enacted emergency measures for townships west of Condobolin, including trucking water into remote areas."The water shortage in Oberon is similar to many central western NSW communities which are facing up to six or seven years of severe, continuous drought," said a spokesman for the Water Minister, Phil Costa. "Let me be clear - water for critical human needs comes first."At Oberon, under a revised agreement reached by regional water users, Wallerawang power station can continue to draw some of its allocated water from the dam until the level drops to 5 per cent, which would leave the town with 12 months of water for minimum human needs.The Mayor of Oberon, Keith Sullivan, said the town should come first in a choice between its needs and keeping the power turbines spinning. But it should be possible to do both, he said."We don't want to have a situation where we are drinking water but sitting in the dark. But the situation doesn't seem to make sense to us." In the near future, Delta Electricity would need to get water elsewhere.Delta, which operates Wallerawang, said it had voluntarily used less than its allocation over the past few months, though it was now back on the Oberon Dam supply, via the Fish River."Wallerawang boiler plant was designed to use the particular quality of water from Fish River and cannot operate reliably without it," a Delta spokeswoman said. "If the dam drops to 5 per cent of capacity, Wallerawang will be severely constrained."Tonight's meeting in Orange will look at a series of priority options including fast-tracking a second stormwater harvesting scheme, commissioning bores for an emergency water supply and undertaking an immediate study into the feasibility of an emergency water supply pipeline connection from Lake Rowlands near Bathurst to Orange.The Mayor of Orange, John Davis, told the Herald he was confident that if the plans were acted on, Orange would not have go to level six restrictions.But a Greens councillor, Jeremy Buckingham, said the council had not acted on the water crisis early enough and had failed to see the impact climate change was happening in the region."We have six months before we move to level six water restrictions and that's an economic meltdown for our community."