It is a spectacle, a rare sight and it has not been seen since 2012 — Copeton Dam near Inverell in northern New South Wales reached capacity overnight and it is the talk of the town.

Key points:

  • Copeton Dam is full for the first time since 2012
  • The dam is now spilling, with flows increasing to 10,000 megaliters per day
  • Irrigators are nervously watching the releases, with their potential for more flooding

The dam is said to be almost three times the size of Sydney Harbour and is spilling for the first time in almost a decade.

Peter Caddey, Inverell shire’s manager of tourism and marketing said it was a magnificent sight.

“It really is a sight to behold,” he said. 

“She’s cracked the 100 per cent mark now and it’s only about the fourth time since she was built [it was completed in 1976] that she’s actually gone over it.

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“You really need to be able to see it from the air to be able to understand exactly just this mammoth amount of water that’s in her at this present time.”

Mr Caddy said there had been a big influx of inquiries from people wanting to visit the area and see the dam. 

“So many people are just asking questions, wondering how camping is going, wanting to make bookings and we’ve also seen a massive influx of day visitors as well just going out to rubberneck … because she’s an absolutely different beast when she’s full.”

Nervous time for irrigators 

While Copeton Dam’s full capacity was good news for water security, the spills — on top of already full river systems — have the potential to lead to more flooding for farmers along the Gwydir River.

Flows are increasing from 6,000 megalitres per day to 10,000 per day.

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association executive officer Zara Lowein said with Copeton Dam spilling, any extra inflows from more forecast rain would be a concern.

An aerial shot of Copeton Dam, near empty

This photo was taken in 2019 when the dam was just 8.3-per-cent capacity.(Supplied: Steven Limkin)

She said those with crops were nervously watching the forecast and any increased release volumes.

With full storage on farms as well, there are few places left for extra water to divert to.

“We’ve got summer crop just popping out of the ground … and we still have a lot of harvesting to do for our winter crop so we’re really watching and waiting.” 

SES crews assess damage

Current water levels remain high in the Gwydir, Namoi, McIntyre and Peel Rivers but are expected to fall slightly or stabilise today.

SES crews across the New England north west are closely monitoring flood waters today, after river levels peaked overnight for most areas.

The Namoi River at Gunnedah peaked overnight at 8.25 metres and remained at that level this morning.

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The waters have caused overland flooding and have cut-off roads. Although no homes have been affected near the Gunnedah area.

Upper Namoi Region SES Commander Dennis Buck said more than a thousand sandbags have been used, and residents were prepared.

“Only two evacuations were made as a precautionary measure, and we haven’t had any rescues overnight,” Mr Buck said.

On Tuesday, a person was rescued from a truck that was bogged under 2 metres of water.

“We’ve had people deliberating moving the road-closed signs. It’s not an innocent mistake in most cases,” Mr Buck said.

The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted more showers for the north west slopes and tablelands, catching up to 15 millimetres in areas around Tamworth.

As more rain is expected later in the week, SES crews are taking advantage of the clearer skies to assess damage and move livestock to drier grounds.

“The water is now flowing through the river system, so we’re expecting a fairly stable day and are monitoring the situation,” Mr Buck said.

Copeton Dam in northern New South Wales fills for first time in almost a decade
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