Tenterfield Water Supply August 2019

KL-1 thousand L, ML-1 million L, GL-1 billion L


There is growing realisation that New South Wales, and more generally southeast Australia, is facing an emerging water crisis. Evidence for this situation is:

  • In February 2019, the Mayors of Bathurst, Dubbo, and Orange met with bureaucrats from NSW Water to discuss water supply.
  • In June 2019, the NSW Government announced that Tamworth, Orange, Cobar, Tenterfield and Guyra were facing critical water shortages.
  • In July 2019, desalination plants were installed at Walgett, Bourke and Tenterfield to produce potable water from saline bore water.
  • Water is now being carted to Murrurundi, Upper Hunter.
  • The Tenterfield town management, in a statement on water supply, intimated there are thirty-eight centres in NSW with serious water supply problems.


There are 4086 Tenterfield residents serviced by the Tenterfield dam which has a capacity of 1393 ML. By mid-August reserves had declined to 32% (445 mega litres) and falling rapidly. Water consumption is around 700,000 L/day (nearly 1 mega litre per day) which is equivalent to 171 L/person/day. The Administration has successfully reduced consumption from 1.3 ML per day. With reserves falling by a few percentage points each month due to increasing evaporation, increasing pressure on use, pipeline/treatment losses and lower level anoxic water, there is less than one year supply of potable water. To extend dam life, a desalination plant has been installed alongside the Shirley Park bore which supplies one mega litre  on alternate days to the dam then on to the water filtration plant.

The Tenterfield dam is located a short distance upstream from the township. It was constructed in 1930s and was refurbished in the 19050s. As a precaution against violent natural events, the dam wall was reinforced at the request of the NSW Dam Safety Committee in 2016.

Water restrictions are in force and inhabitants are requested to make extra effort to limit consumption. Despite tight controls, the Tenterfield Shire Council has expressed concern at the high rate of draw down from the Emergency Dispensary Station. Through over use, consumption has increased to 171 L/p/d – that is 700,000 L/day. The problem is that many residents maintain stock on their small township properties that continue to use the town supply rather than bore water. This situation is compounded by the National Resources Access Regulator, which has denied access to the Apex Park bore for stock use, retaining this water, presumably, for emergency use.

By July 2019, the water reserve had reduced to 32% and is declining rapidly. Despite restrictions, consumption was running at 700,000 litres per day, which is almost a mega litre.


Some months ago, the Shirley Park bore was refurbished to supply between 600,000 to one million litres per day of saline water to the dam. At the end of July, a desalination plant was installed alongside the bore that now treats 70-75 kilolitres per day which goes direct to the filtration plant. The bore also produces one mega litre on alternate days which is pumped into the dam.  The desalination plant was provided by Rural Aid, an unfunded non-Government organisation, at a cost of $120,000. Several towns and villages intend to obtain a similar plant.

The Tenterfield Shire Council has requested consulting geologists, Geo9 PL and Zoic PL, to select sites, run a drilling program and test bore water for immediate use. If these investigations are unsuccessful the Shire Council has indicated water will ultimately have to be imported.


The objective of the Drought Management Plan is to provide the community with a functional and sustainable water supply during extended drought. Currently, the drought is at Stage 4.5, with dam level at 30% capacity; this permits water consumption between 170-240 L/p/d. At Stage 7, with a dam level at <10% water consumption will be reduced to 100 L/p/d. At current Stage 4.5, the Shire Council will now be considering alternate water supply options. In the event “water storage is depleted Lismore’s water supply would most likely be commissioned”.  Under these conditions, consumption in Tenterfield would be reduced from 0.7 ML per day to 0.35 ML/day (85-100 L/p/d). According to Council this would require twenty tanker loads per day, each of 20,000 litres, to satisfy this requirement.

Using Freight Metrics –Truck Operating Calculator, a pre-feasibility estimate for water cartage costs between Lismore and Tenterfield is $768,000 per month.

Parameters are:

  • Lismore to Tenterfield return -350 km.
  • B-Double tanker – 24 tonnes.
  • Cost per trip – $1,587, say $1600.
  • Truck movements per day – 20.
  • Working month – 24 days, 6-day week.
  • Cost per resident (4086) is $790 per month.

Cartage costs appear to be the same order of magnitude as those quoted by the Southern Downs Regional Council for water cartage to Stanthorpe and Warwick. Is the NSW Government considering the implication of this information for perhaps another 38 towns/townships in the State?


In an ABC program aired on 23rd July under the title ‘Country Towns approach Day Zero’, the populations of Walcha, Tenterfield, Cobar, Naromine, Nyngan and Stanthorpe received special mention. The Southern Downs Regional Council, Queensland, adjoining Tenterfield Shire, has imposed Critical Water Restrictions on Stanthorpe and Warwick limiting water use to 120 L/p/d. For the Southern Downs region, it is estimated water cartage will accrue monthly costs between $0.5 and $1.5 million depending upon cartage distances. With a worsening water situation in southern Queensland and north/central New South Wales, there is an increasing bio-security risk as cattle transport washing stations close down.


Despite the severity of the NSW water shortage, bureaucratic process is being maintained. The Mayor and CEO of Tenterfield Shire met with the Minister for Water, the Hon, Melinda Pavey, early in 2019, seeking urgent assistance for Tenterfield’s developing water shortage. Resulting from this meeting, the Cross Border Commissioner and the Regional Supply Coordinator arranged a meeting on the 4th June 2019 with representatives from the Department of Industry-Water to discuss funding mechanisms, water bore drilling, expenditure approvals, time lines for delivery and accountability for program delivery. This has enabled consultant hydrologists to commence work.

At a recent meeting of the Border Region Organisation of Councils, the term ‘natural disaster’ was used to describe the regional situation. The NSW Minister for Water was reluctant to use this language as tourists might misinterpret the term!

Of the bigger picture, the NSW Government has spent $650 million on water infrastructure during the past eighteen months. In addition, the Federal Government has spent $1.3 billion on water resource projects across Australia via the National Water Infrastructure Fund. In a report dated 3rd July 2019, the only expenditure relevant to NSW water security was a Department of Industry unidentified commitment for $75 million.


With water reserves in the Tenterfield dam set to disappear within a year, water security for the township appears to rest on the Shirley Park bore producing a mega litre of water on alternate days and a proposed drilling program directed by consultant hydrologists. This investigation will take several months before sustainable supplies can be confirmed. If an emergency supply becomes necessary, then water from the Apex Park bore might be released. However, trucking in water will probably eventuate as stated in the Council document. When the drought breaks the long-term problem remains. This is a South East Australian problem, not one for a rural township.


  • Tenterfield Star. 19 February 2019. Dam Levels.
  • Tenterfield Shire Council. 2019. Dam Safety Upgrade.
  • Tenterfield Shire Council. March 2019. Drought Management Plan.
  • ABC North, 9 March 2019. Tenterfield Water Crisis.
  • Tenterfield Star. 2 April 2019. The Apex Bore.
  • Tenterfield Shire Council. 17 April 2019. Level 4.5 Restrictions.
  • Tenterfield Star. 21 May 2019. Bore shores up Water Supply.
  • NW Daily Leader. 4 June 2019. Water Restrictions.
  • Tenterfield Shire Council. June 2019. Update on Water Situation.
  • ABC News. 23 July 2019. Country Towns approach Day Zero.
  • Daily Leader. 30 July 2019. Desalination Plant at Shirley Park Bore.
  • Tenterfield Shire Council. August 2019. Water Supply and Restrictions.



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