Last summer towns in western NSW completely ran out of drinking water, with major rivers like the Darling dry due to water theft by agribusiness and drought.
The NSW government has set aside $2 million to cart water by truck, admitting that there are 40 towns across the state with less than six months of water left.
Based on worst case scenarios, where there is no more rainfall, large towns on the Macquarie Rivers including Dubbo, with a population of 34,000 people, could run out of water by November.
With surrounding rivers dry, more and more towns are reliant on poor quality bore water. In Walgett, water from the taps is often “the colour of mud”, Kelli Randell, Chief executive of the Walgett Local Aboriginal Land Council, told NITV News. High sodium levels in the water have seen people who drink it suffer stomach aches and vomiting.
As a result many locals rely on expensive bottled water to drink.
More fish kills like that at Menindee last year, where up to a million fish died, are also feared. Already thousands of dead carp, a destructive introduced species, as well as smaller numbers of native Murray cod, were discovered at Lake Pamamaroo near Broken Hill in October.
The majority of the Darling River is still dry, with no water flow at all.
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall had admitted there will be more mass fish deaths this summer, warning the state was facing “a fish Armageddon”, which would, “literally dwarf the fish kill events that we saw last summer”.
Bruce Shillingsworth, a Muruwari and Budjiti man and activist, led a river tour of the areas around Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Wilcannia and Menindee in October.
“I took my mother down the river in Bourke and we walked the river. The dry river bed,” he said. “My mother is now in her 90s. She had never seen the river in this condition.”
This situation will only worsen due to climate change.
“We are the first generation to experience the climate change crisis, and we may be the last generation with a chance to fix it,” Bruce said.
By James Supple