Two years of unrelenting drought has seen Chichester Dam drop to 38.1 per cent

Chichester Dam in December 2019 showing exposed foreshore. Picture: Hunter Water
Chichester Dam in December 2019 showing exposed foreshore. Picture: Hunter Water

Chichester Dam, one of the region's main water storages, is only less than six per cent above its record low point.

Like elsewhere across the Barrington region, the dam has been a victim of one of Australia's most severe and prolonged droughts.

Photos taken by the Newcastle Herald in 2015, when the dam was full, show water lapping at the trees on the foreshore. The same image today shows several meters of exposed clay between the water and foreshore.

From another perspective, the water level is presently 9.6 metres below the spillway.

Chichester Dam in 2015. Picture: Darren Pateman

Chichester Dam in 2015. Picture: Darren Pateman

Constructed between 1915 and 1926, the 18,356 megalitre dam contributes 35 per cent of the Lower Hunter's potable water supply,

Two years of unrelenting drought has seen the dam level reach 38.1 per cent.

The record low point of 32.4 per cent was recorded at the height of the early 1980s drought on May 7, 1980.

A Hunter Water spokeswoman said streamflow in the Wangat and Chichester Rivers - the two main sources feeding the dam - had reduced significantly

The water level is water level is presently 9.6 metres below the top of the spillway. Picture: Hunter Water

The water level is water level is presently 9.6 metres below the top of the spillway. Picture: Hunter Water

"There has been an 80 per cent reduction in inflow from Wangat from 2018 to 2019, with flows ceasing altogether in early January 2020. Meanwhile Chichester River has recorded a 75 per cent reduction in the same period, and current flows are very low," the spokeswoman said.

Like other Hunter surface storages, Chichester Dam can rebound quickly. The dam's storage went from 65 per cent to 100 per cent in three days of rain in March 2017.

The region's other storages Grahamstown, Tomago and Anna Bay are at 54.3 per cent, 56.6 per cent and 54.9 per cent respectively. The overall storage for the region is 53.7 per cent.

The Lower Hunter will commence Level 2 water restrictions on January 20.

Hunter water consumption data shows 18 per cent less water is being consumed in the region than at the start of Level one water restrictions in September last year.

A boarding party arrives at Chichester Dam in the mid-1960s drought. Picture: Hunter Water

A boarding party arrives at Chichester Dam in the mid-1960s drought. Picture: Hunter Water

"This saving amounts to the average water use of 66,000 households in the same period. Hunter Water is also doing everything it can to reduce losses by increasing our active leak detection work and bringing in additional resources to find and fix leaks quicker," a spokeswoman said.

"We encourage everyone to keep loving water by following the water restrictions and making simple changes at home such as reducing showers to four minutes and fixing leaks. It's the small things we can all do that together will help conserve our precious resource."

Hunter Water has also lodged an environmental impact statement for a $100 million desalination plant at Belmont. The plant, would be switched on when storages reach 15 per cent and produce 15 million litres of water a day or 10 per cent of the region's water needs.

This story originally appeared on Newcastle Herald