Farmers Matt and Sandra Ireson on their property, Sept. 28, 2018, during a severe and prolonged drought outside the town of Booligal in western New South Wales. Rainfall in 2018 was 75 percent below average.
Farmers Matt and Sandra Ireson on their property, Sept. 28, 2018, during a severe and prolonged drought outside the town of Booligal in western New South Wales. Rainfall in 2018 was 75 percent below average.

SYDNEY - Water restrictions are to be imposed in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, for the first time in almost a decade because of falling reservoir levels and a long-standing drought. Residents who breach the regulations could be fined US$150.

The flow of rainwater into some of Sydney’s reservoirs is at its lowest since World War II. From Saturday, households will face restrictions that will target the use of water outdoors. Garden sprinklers will be banned, and tougher measures could follow. The New South Wales state government says that “early and decisive action” will help to conserve supplies as a record-breaking drought worsens.

A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drough
A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-effected paddock on Jimmie and May McKeown's property on the outskirts of Walgett, in New South Wales, Australia, July 20, 2018.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is predicting below-average rainfall and higher temperatures for the next three months across the much of the continent.

“With the lowest inflows into Sydney’s water storage since 1940, the government has come to a decision that it is best to go into water restrictions," said Melinda Pavey, the New South Wales state Minister for Water. "We may get rain. The Bureau of Meteorology’s predictions are not fabulous, but as we know as we plan weekends, they are not always right and I hope that they are wrong. We are taking the appropriate course of action to take it to level one.”

New South Wales has been in drought since the middle of 2017.

Cattle walk past an empty dam and old windmill in
FILE - Cattle walk past an empty dam and old windmill in a drought-affected paddock on a property located west of the town of Gunnedah, located in the northwest of New South Wales in Australia, June 8, 2018.

Catherine Port, from Sydney Water, a government-owned company, says its officers will patrol to ensure the water ban is not broken.

“Sydney Water have a team of community water officers that will be out in the community to monitor and ensure that water restrictions are complied with. Penalties that will apply is AUD$220 for individuals and $550 for businesses,” she said.

Critics, though, insist that Sydney’s plight is in part the result of poor planning and a failure to take water recycling seriously.

Falling reservoir levels prompted authorities to switch on a multi-million dollar desalinization plant in January. At full capacity, it could supply Sydney, a city of 4.6 million people, with 15 per cent of its water needs.

Smaller towns in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, are also facing water crises. In Tamworth, residents are on level four restrictions that ban all use of water outdoors, and swimming pools cannot be filled or topped up. Level five restrictions are considered to be an emergency measure.

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent.