Pic taken at the Rocky River at Tabulam which runs into the Clarence River.
Pic taken at the Rocky River at Tabulam which runs into the Clarence River. Susanna Freymark

Once mighty Clarence River is running low

"IT'S pretty bad," was how one Tabulam resident described the current state of the once mighty Clarence River.

Residents have stopped pumping water from the river since May because of the presence of blue-green algae caused by low water levels.

Geoff McMillan has lived in Tabulam for almost 30 years and working at the Tabulam Post Office he hears a lot of stories about the Clarence.

"I used to go fishing and put my boat in at the bridge," Mr McMillan said. "I'd take kids down the river in the mid 90s."

The last big flood was in 2008, he said.

"Under the bridge the water is only waist-high," Mr McMillan said.

It is silted up with sand and weed, he said, and a significant flood was needed to clean it out.


Bridge work at Tabulam.
The current construction of a new bridge at Tabulam wouldn't have helped the flow of the Clarence River. Susanna Freymark

Three or four water trucks pass Mr McMillan's front door every day, taking water from the river and he said they are likely to be doing this legally but it wouldn't be helping with the river flow.

"In 1991 people used to have ski boats and put them in behind the police station and ski upstream," he said.

Now that same area is a pasture with no sign of the river, the small flow hidden behind mounds.

Kyogle Council general manager Graham Kennett said Council did not provide water supply services to the village of Tabulam.

"The drinking water supply for this village is through rainwater tanks," Mr Kennett said.

"Council is aware that some residents supplement their rainwater tank supply with water sourced from the Clarence River. With the flows in the Clarence so low at present, it is likely that the ability to source this supplementary supply would be compromised.

"Some residents will need to buy in water through a licenced water carter, placing an additional strain on the household budget which is more than likely already affected by the ongoing drought conditions."

Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland said they were looking for more than $6 million to connect Tabulam to water, (and Mallanganee, Wiangaree and Tabulam to sewer) which would address the issues around water for Tabulam.

"In Canberra in June, I attended a drought forum where water shortages were discussed at length and there is a lot of frustration out there around this particular issue. Some Councils have sunk bores, put in water points but it remains a problem," Ms Mulholland said.

"There is a lot of drought assistance available however because the Drought Communities program is based on rainfall levels per LGA, Kyogle is not eligible. We get more rainfall east of the range than we do west of the range so this eligibility assessment is flawed in that regard."

Further upstream past the Tabulam Bridge there is an island of sand that was never there before, Mr McMillan said.

"I'd like to see an extraction barge suck out the sand and sell it," he said.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment are looking into providing information about dredging and river quality in the Clarence.




Bridge work at Tabulam.
Photos are deceptive as this pelican flies below the columns of the new bridge being constructed at Tabulam. Susanna Freymark


The Clarence River rises on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range, in the Border Ranges west of Bonalbo, near Rivertree at the junction of Koreelah Creek and Maryland River, on the watershed that marks the border between NSW and Queensland.

Apart from the Murray River, it is the largest river in mainland Australia.


On its journey it passes through the towns of Tabulam and Copmanhurst, Grafton, and the towns of Ulmarra, and Maclean.