Hope for a decent cotton season is fading in the Macquarie Valley in western New South Wales.
The state's bulk water supplier, Water NSW, today announced opening water allocations for the 2020/2021 season.
All water licence categories in the Macquarie received a full allocation except general security — for those license holders no allocation would be possible until further rain filled the valley's major storage, Burrendong Dam.
Trangie farmer Tony Quigley said the news was disappointing but not unexpected.
"If we don't see inflows soon I think the amount of cotton will be limited to a small area, unless there's a radical change," Mr Quigley said.
With the next allocation statement due in August, farmers faced a tight window to make decisions.
"The clock's ticking," he said.
"Even if we do get an allocation after further inflows [into Burrendong Dam] it's going to arrive fairly late which means growers may not have time to spray their existing wheat crop out and get the fields ready for cotton."
But Mr Quigley remained optimistic.
"There is good news in that from today we will receive 40 per cent of our water that was suspended due to drought back in August 2018," he said.
"And the second thing is the best inflow periods of Burrendong are still to come this winter."
Water prioritised for critical needs
While significant autumn rainfall had restored farming conditions across the state, most irrigation valleys received zero general security allocation in today's announcement.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) surface water manager Brian Graham said major water storages needed topping up.
Therefore, he said, it was important that water for critical human needs was prioritised.
"Recent rainfall has replenished soil moisture deficits," he said.
"However, water storages statewide have only improved by three to four per cent which is very small on average.
"What we don't want to do is allocate to general security water only to find another hot summer where we don't have the water we thought we had and we have to freeze that water in accounts."
Burrendong Dam rebounding
After three extremely dry years Burrendong Dam has rebounded significantly after recent inflows.
The dam is now over 23 per cent capacity — up from a low of five per cent in 2019.
Mr Graham was hopeful the dam would continue to refill and said allocations to irrigators would be reassessed "after every drop of rain".
"There's a good chance of getting at least average rainfall in August through to October," he said.ABC