Water authorities are closely monitoring declining storage levels at reservoirs across the region with Australia placed on an El Niño alert by the Bureau of Meteorology.
Coliban Water, which supplies the majority of urban water in the region, is at 76 per cent capacity across its three reservoirs – a drop of around 15 per cent from the same time last year.
Malmsbury Reservoir was just 12 per cent full, containing 1449 megalitres, while Lauriston (84 per cent) and Upper Coliban (93.3 per cent) had healthier reserves.
Goulburn Murray Water, supplier of rural and recreational water, was in a similar position after successive dry winters. Lake Eppalock was 49 per cent full – a decline of 34 per cent from 2018 – while Cairn Curran Reservoir was also just under half full.
Goulburn Murray Water resource manager Mark Bailey said storage levels were at their lowest in three years, but would become more of a concern if minimal rainfall was recorded over the next few months.
“We'd love to see them at a much higher level – in terms of volumes – I wouldn't say we’re relatively happy with them but they’re going down as expected,” he said.
“We are concerned as we're approaching another year of dry conditions. Two dry years will see the lakes go to very low levels.”
The BOM is predicting a 70 per cent chance of an El Niño pattern forming over Eastern Australia, roughly triple the normal risk. El Niño systems typically bring drier and warmer conditions, but effects tend to be less pronounced in the south during summer.
Mr Bailey said the lakes and reservoirs were currently fulfilling their purpose, which is to provide one to three years’ worth of reserve for communities for irrigation and to a lesser extent urban use.
For example, 40 per cent of the volume of Lake Eppalock was required for one year of water entitlements.
Despite this, he said water allocations for the 2019-20 season, which opens on July 1, would likely be lower than 2018-19. Recreational use of the lakes was less of a concern for Goulburn Murray Water, according to Mr Bailey, who said the water authority’s priority was the irrigators, who in essence owned the majority of water in the lakes.
Mr Bailey said Lake Eppalock would have to drop to about 20 per cent capacity before boating restrictions were enforced.
A spokesperson for Coliban Water said its water resources were in a good position and it was well prepared to meet urban and rural customers’ water needs this summer.
“We are not considering water restrictions this summer. Permanent water saving rules are in place at all times for all towns in our region and our rural customers have access to 100 per cent of their licence volume for this season,” he said.
The spokesperson reminded customers to use water efficiently, by using a leak-free hose fitted with a trigger nozzle and only use watering systems between 6pm and 10am on any day.
Coliban Water has nine separate water supply systems across the region, each with a different supply source and level of water security, which enables it to better manage drier conditions, he said.
It comes as an Essential Services Commission water performance report showed water use had increased in the Coliban region by around eight per cent in 2017-18.
The report, released last month, also revealed Coliban Water bills were second highest in the state.
An average annual water bill for owner-occupier Coliban customers was $1367, which had forced some customers to cut back on water usage. President of Bendigo Garden Club Keith Woods said some members were being charged close to $2000 per year.
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