Murray system reaches full allocation before spring, making river operators and landowners ‘nervous’

Authorities are warning landowners downstream of Hume Dam near Albury-Wodonga to prepare for flooding as spring approaches.

Up to 100 millimeters of rain is forecast this week in northeastern Victoria and the South River region of New South Wales, with the Upper Murray, Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, Ovens and King rivers expected to experience floods.

After a fairly dry July, Hume Dam is sitting at 92% capacity and is expected to fill this season.

The dam filled up last September.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) yesterday advised landowners below the Hume Dam ‘to be prepared for flooding as we enter the wettest period for southern catchments’.

MDBA Rivers Management Executive Director Andrew Reynolds said Hume Dam currently has 250 gigaliters of airspace available before the dam is considered full.

“We have been in close contact with the Bureau of Meteorology, we anticipate that we will be able to handle this rain event with the airspace we have,” Mr Reynolds said.

“We will make new releases to preserve more airspace ahead of future events.”

Farmers downstream of the Hume Dam said the abundance of water already in the system was “very concerning”.

Murray River Action Group chairman Richard Sarsgood said landowners along the Murray would check storage levels daily in anticipation of flooding.

“Everyone is watching this upcoming rain event and we’ll see how much airspace it takes up in Hume Dam,” he said.

“By the next rainy event, people will start to consider moving livestock to higher ground or coming out in distress.”

Murray at full allowance

The irrigation season officially begins on August 15. Victoria’s irrigators already have their 100% high reliability allocation.

Hume Dam reached capacity in September 2021 for the first time since 2016.(Rural ABC: Annie Brown )

Goulburn Murray Water resource manager Mark Bailey said it was the first time the system had reached full allocation in 20 years.

“The last time we were at this level was in 2002/2003. It’s something we haven’t seen for a very long time,” Mr Bailey said.

Authorities predict a wetter year, warning irrigators and landowners to expect more water.

“It’s something that makes a river operator quite nervous in terms of what’s going on with potential inlets and where the weirs are,” Mr Bailey said.

‘High probability’ of Dartmouth spreading

Further upstream from Lake Hume, Victoria’s largest dam at Dartmouth has a capacity of around 95% and holds 3.8 million megalitres of water.

The view of Dartmouth Dam signage above the water.
Dartmouth Dam is Victoria’s largest storage with a capacity of 4 million megalitres.(Rural ABC: Annie Brown)

The last time the Dartmouth Dam overturned was in October 1996, and excitement is building that the mega dam could overflow for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

“There’s a reasonably high chance of Dartmouth filling up this year,” said MDBA’s Andrew Reynolds.

“It’s a much bigger storage than Hume, but it also has a much smaller catchment upstream, so the inlets aren’t necessarily as large.

“We’re not releasing water ahead of Dartmouth because it would just head towards Hume and we’d have more water to deal with there.

“At this time it is best that we protect the airspace at Hume Dam.”

Living in the floodplain

A full river.
The Murray system has reached full water allocation.(Rural ABC: Annie Brown)

Richard Sarsgood has been farming along the Murray River outside of Howlong, NSW, for 66 years.

Of the 120 members of the River Action Group living between Lake Hume and Yarrawonga, Mr Sarsgood said flooding was of greater concern this year with an abundance of water already in the system in August.

“There are a lot of landowners and tourism operators worried because the system has been fully loaded since February,” Mr Sarsgood said.

“With the rains this week and the events to come, there are great fears that there will be repeated flooding like in previous years.

“To the MDBA’s credit, they brought Hume’s dam down to 92%, which is a step in the right direction.

“However, with Dartmouth so full and the Bureau of Meteorology predicting wetter than average next three months, we are very concerned that flooding is headed our way.”

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