The Macquarie valley covers more than 75,000 square kilometres in the north of New South Wales. It extends from the Blue Mountains to the Barwon River Plains, with major tributaries including the Cudgegong, Talbragar and Bell rivers. The valley is home to the iconic Macquarie Marshes – one of the largest semi-permanent wetland systems and colonial waterbird breeding sites in inland Australia.
A record drought
A record drought dominated conditions at the start of the 2019–20 water year, with all carryover water in licenced accounts quarantined by WaterNSW. This included 111.5 gigalitres from the NSW Environmental Water Allowance and general security held environmental water (HEW) held by New South Wales and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH).
No water was available for active management, which meant the third year of the 3-year watering strategy set in 2016–17 was unable to be completed.
The prevailing resource availability scenario identified in the Macquarie–Castlereagh Catchment Annual Environmental Watering Priorities 2019–20 remained as ‘very dry’ in April 2020, with no water availability and an extremely dry landscape after 2.5 years of drought.
That situation started to change in January 2020 with rainfall resulting in runoff, followed by many events until 30 June 2020. The regulated river was again flowing through to the Barwon River and inundation of the core of the Macquarie Marshes occurred, including the northern Marshes reedbed which burnt in October 2019. Some supplementary HEW was used during this period to maximise flows to the Marshes and commence drought recovery. Some water-take restrictions were also applied by the NSW Government.