Lachlan bears brunt of NSW flood; 1952 record could fall

Liz Wells, November 2, 2022

WaterNSW yesterday started releasing 100,000ML from Wyangala Dam to make room for inflows. Photo: Peter Springer

MORE rain on an already sodden New South Wales is causing further crop losses and fears of livestock deaths, with the Lachlan Valley bearing the brunt of the latest event.

Its storage, Wyangala Dam, is now spilling 100,000 megalitres in 24 hours, and a Bureau of Meteorology warning issued yesterday said it could see Lachlan River heights breach the record set in 1952.

Floods have been impacting operations for mixed farms between Forbes and Condobolin for months, and the tributaries flowing into the Lachlan above and below Wyangala have prompted inundations between Forbes and Cowra.

Impact broadens

The headwaters of the Lachlan stretch into the renowned Merino country of the Boorowa and Crookwell districts.

The valley is also a major producer of lucerne, fodder and cash crops, and prime lambs as well as cattle.

Summit Ag agronomist Ben Romeo said with big falls in the headwaters, WaterNSW cannot hold off spilling Wyangala, already at 102 per cent.

“They need some airspace in the dam; they’ve got no choice but to spill,” Mr Romeo said.

Tributaries of the Lachlan, including the Belabula River and Mandagery Creek, are also in flood, and have prompted mixed farmers like Kim Storey and family at Eugowra to move sheep to safety.



The 100,000ML spill exceeds the 60,000ML releases seen in 2011 and 2016, and comes following huge inflows above and below the dam wall.

“I’ve lost count how many rises we’ve had peaks in the river this year,” Mr Romeo said.

He has clients throughout the Lachlan, some of whom have already lost significant amounts of fodder crops, and one who has a mob of ewes stranded in the path of the flood.

Some producers are looking to rescue animals by boat.

“This generation hasn’t seen a flood like this.”

Pastures and fodder-crop losses are already considerable and will increase as flooding moves upstream from Forbes to impact the gullies and flats around Eugowra, Canowindra, Cowra, and Boorowa.

“We’re going to be heavily chewing into fodder reserves.

“No-one’s got cereal hay, and we’re going to lose a lot of low-lying lucerne country.

“No-one’s got lucerne hay in Forbes to sell.”

Some blocks are already cut off, and parts of farms are inaccessible.

Mr Romeo said managing flocks will be a challenge this summer.

“We’re going to have a big fly season.”

At Boorowa, Ray White Rural and Livestock agent Garry Apps said flash flooding has occurred in gullies since around 80mm of rain fell in parts of the catchment overnight on Monday.

He said the continuing rain had thwarted schedules, with one client in the Harden area making slow progress on shearing.

“We started shearing three weeks ago and we’ve only done four days.”

The Central West Livestock Exchange at Forbes held its regular weekly cattle sale on Monday, and sold sheep yesterday, but sales next week may be cancelled if much of the district is still in flood.

The facility is already holding some livestock as a safe haven for producers who cannot access any other higher ground.

Helicopters called in for sheep

North of Forbes, a ram client of New South Wales seedstock producer Tom Bull is set to have his 1400 sheep saved from flood water by helicopters organised by the NSW SES after a call-out by Mr Bull on Twitter. After his client told him he had no options for moving the sheep, Mr Bull tweeted his urgent request for assistance yesterday, advising that the stranded sheep will be gone by Friday if not shifted. He subsequently received several offers of help, including offers of barges.

“It’s amazing, a lot of good people offered their services … the power of social media.”

Mr Bull said the SES is coming with helicopters on Thursday to move the sheep in crates.

“I think there are a lot of stock in trouble up there.

“Wyangala Dams has been going at 20,000 megs a day and now it’s up to 125,000,” he said.

“Forbes is going to get smashed.”

This NSW RFS – Mid Murray Support post on Facebook last Friday shows how sheep are moved using a helicopter and suspended crate.

Crop options shrink

Wet conditions are plaguing crops into the eastern Riverina. Some cotton is grown downstream of Forbes, and new-crop planting has started.

“Only some paddocks have been sown, and if they’re not inundated now, they will be,” Mr Romeo said.

Many growers in the Lachlan Valley and the Macquarie Valley to the north missed out on planting all their intended winter-cropping area because of wet conditions in May-June.

They had been hoping to plant summer crop, an opportunity only available in excessively wet years for winter-dominant rainfall growing areas, but Mr Romeo said those options were also running out.

“With grain sorghum, we really wanted that in by now, and we can’t get on the country.”

“Now we’re talking about mungbeans and corn.”

Mr Romeo said crop losses are being seen away from the flats as saturated underground flows in recharge areas hit bedrock.

“We’re seeing that from Canowindra to Bathurst; we’ve got seepage killing crops and big yellow areas on sides of hills.”

Canola crops not already windrowed will be direct headed.

“I have a client with a couple of thousand hectares of canola; we can’t get on the paddock, and it’s at 80-per-cent colour turn.

“We’re just going to direct head; we’ve got no option.”

Mr Romeo said windrowing is off the cards in the Lachlan for many growers.

“We should be windrowing all the crops around Forbes, but only a handful have been dropped.

“People are trying to windrow but they’ll have to direct head.”

Mr Apps said shattering of canola pods is expected to cost yield as pods ripens beyond their desired level.

“We’ll lose 20-30pc in shelling out.”

Mr Romeo said losses in winter cereals were as yet unknown.

“With our cereals, a lot have been inundated, and we don’t know until the water subsides what the damage will be.”

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