COLUMN: Scratching our heads

OFFLINE: Cataract Dam, Macarthur's main water supply, photographed in the 1920s (courtesy of the Nash collection) and sitting today at barely 25 per cent full...and now switched off.
OFFLINE: Cataract Dam, Macarthur's main water supply, photographed in the 1920s (courtesy of the Nash collection) and sitting today at barely 25 per cent full...and now switched off.

1. We're on Level 1 water restrictions.

2. They've just taken Cataract Dam offline because it's too empty and its water supply is no longer suitable to drink.

What???? Does that make any sense to you?

I mean, shouldn't it go:

Level 1.

Then Level 2.

Then Level 3.

Maybe even a Level 4 or Level 5, like some bush towns are on right now.

Then, if all those measures haven't worked, considering a crisis measure such as shutting down a major dam.

Instead, we've leapfrogged directly from Level 1 to... "switch off Cataract!"

What does this actually say about how our precious water security is treated?

Now, I realise this is NSW and we don't have a high bar.

This is the state which has several towns, including Dubbo, set to run out of water by November... yet huge new water allocations have been handed to cotton irrigation upstream.

The state that allows mining under catchments.

And now it's the state that goes directly from Level 1 to taking a dam offline.

As for that last one, I've been asking around and the jury seems to be out as to who is to blame.

Some say it is sheer government incompetence, but others say it is the flawed "averaging" system which determines water restrictions on anaverage of all Sydney dam levels - skewed, of course, by Warragamba, which is more than 50 per cent full (but can't supply Macarthur).

Averages can be crap.

They'll tell you that if you put your head in an oven and your feet in a bucket of freezing water your body temperature will be comfortable.

Or, that Macarthur's water supply is fine, when it's not.

Which makes the role of wise ministers and Premiers crucial, to be able to step in when averages are clearly presenting a falsehood.

To use another parable: knowledge is knowing that tomatoes are a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put them in the fruit salad.

Unfortunately, Macarthur has been handed yet another tomato-laden dessert.

It's not like they weren't warned. This newspaper, local MP Greg Warren, and Wollondilly councillors have been warning the government of the serious risk here for more than two years. Only for us to be fobbed off.

But here's the thing...

In taking Cataract Dam offline, a WaterNSW spokesman said: "Supply to Macarthur water filtration plant and the Upper Canal [is now] being provided from Nepean Dam, which in turn is receiving water transfers from the Shoalhaven."

Let's think that through.

Macarthur is now draining the dwindling water supplies of bushfire-prone Shoalhaven, which is on water restrictions, yet the government still has us on Level 1!

Which means selfish people can still hose town water on their lawns any time before 10am or after 4pm, and even fill and refill swimming pools up to 10,000 litres.

Water Minister Melinda Pavey has called it the "worst drought on record" and admits that water storages are "depleting faster than was previously forecast." Yet we have remained on Level 1 as we raid the bush. Some people would call that wrong.

But not as wrong as a government ramming through water-guzzling housing estate after housing estate, as it shuts down our dams with no long-term solution.

The Water Minister admits our water storages are "depleting faster than was previously forecast." Why, then, are we still on level 1?