SUBSTANTIAL rainfall in the Coliban catchment has delayed drawing on water from Lake Eppalock to sustain Bendigo by more than a month, but the switch could happen as early as late January.
Before the weekend’s rain, it was expected Bendigo would draw from Lake Eppalock by Christmas after a dry spring and triggered by levels in the Coliban South catchment falling below 50 gigalitres.
The southern catchments continue to sit at about 55 gigalitres, but Coliban’s annual water outlook predicts demand for water over summer will rise “due to forecast dry conditions and warmer temperatures”.
It has been more than two years since Coliban’s catchments have been dry enough to pump from Lake Eppalock to Bendigo.
The last time was ahead of the 2016 federal election when low levels became a critical election issue and Liberal environment minister at the time Greg Hunt promised to “discuss” with the Victorian government the need to pump water downstream water for environmental flows.
Since then, work done by the Lake Eppalock Advisory Group has equipped local business owners, most associated with seasonal tourism businesses, with the information to manage years of low water levels.
Peter and Leisa Rose own the Lake Eppalock Holiday Park and have taken advantage of two healthy holiday seasons associated with high lake levels to improve the business.
Mr Rose said bookings for the Christmas holidays were good now the lake was at 50 per cent but the hit could come at Easter and Victoria’s Labour Day holiday long weekend when levels are forecast to fall to 35 per cent.
At that time, Mr Rose said, it would depend on rainfall.
He said the park and local tourism bodies were looking to promote mountain biking as an alternative land based activity encouraging people to come to the lake.
While the shoreline at his park, on the lake’s southern shore, receded dramatically during low water levels, he said other nearby parts of the lake were still accessible for boat use and fishing.
“It is about people having the right information,” Mr Rose said.
For Bendigonians, the relatively strong remaining storages mean water manager Coliban Water will not impose tougher water restrictions this summer.
But regional liveability manager Steve Healy said the less used during summer which is also the peak tourism season on the lake, the less pumped out.
Mr Healy said a big change in water management since the millenium drought had been how households saved water.
“People used hose down their driveways in the late 1990s, now that is considered morally wrong,” he said, referring to what is bounce back behaviour.
“People haven’t bounced back to the same water usage before the drought.”
Mr Healy is also on the Lake Eppalock Advisory Group.
He said there was better information during times of low water levels at the lake than previously.
“Before, the message was that the lake was really low and people from Melbourne didn’t know if they could or couldn’t water ski, so they didn’t come,” he said.