Heavy regional rainfall has Lake George as full as its been since 2017

Max O'Driscoll 29 November 2021 28
Lake George

A year of heavy rainfall has Lake George looking very full of water, a far cry from the dry state it was in during the drought of 2017-2019. Photo: Professor Bradley Pillans.

A full Lake George is an exceptional sight.

Following heavy rainfall throughout 2021, the lake, which is situated 40km northeast of Canberra, is beginning to look like a full body of water again after the 2017-2019 drought left it barren and lifeless.

Numerous pictures are circulating online of people admiring Lake George in all its glory, but is it here to stay or should we expect these continued fluctuations as our climate grows more extreme at either end of the scale?

Professor Bradley Pillans from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences has been exploring the history of Lake George in recent times. He says the lake is now as full as its been since October 2017.

“It comes and goes on a decadal basis,” he says.

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“In the 1990s, it was fuller than it is now, but it didn’t last as long as that period in the 1950s and 1960s when we had a lot of wet years in southeast Australia.

“It all depends on the rain, and you need a series of wet years to keep the lake up and the 1950s was like that.

“We’ve had a couple of wet years now – last year and this year – but it needs to keep up. There’s every chance the lake will get as deep as it was in the 1950s and 1960s again.”

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lake George was around four metres deep, with the volume of water comparable to Sydney Harbour at around 500 gigalitres.

Professor Pillans recalls activities on the lake in 1964 such as sailing by Canberra Sailing Club, speedboats and water skiing.

Three people on speedboat on Lake George in 1964

Speedboats were once a common sight at Lake George. This photo was taken in 1964. Photo: Bob Pillans.

Currently, the level at Lake George is around 1.5 metres deep, or about 100 gigalitres and only 20 per cent of Sydney Harbour.

“It’s a big lake in area, but it’s not very deep,” says Professor Pillans. “Even though it looks like there is a lot of water there, it’s very shallow.”

Long-time Canberrans would remember the water lapping up to the Federal Highway in the 1990s. Professor Pillans says that is a genuine possibility of occurring again.

“The lake has come up quite a lot in the past few months and they’re predicting a wetter than normal summer,” he says.

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“If we get another wet year next year, I’d say there’s every chance we’ll have the water lapping up to the edge of the road like it did in the 1990s.”

What is unlikely to ever return is the 37-metres deep Lake George from thousands of years ago, much to the delight of the communities in Bungendore and Collector.

“That [37 metres deep] means the water would’ve lapped up to Gearys Gap where the lookout is on the highway and almost spilled over through the low point of the ranges there,” says Professor Pillans.

“Bungendore and Collector would’ve been underwater. Lake George would’ve been huge, absolutely spectacular and permanent because the rainfall was much higher.”

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According to Professor Pillans, while a La Niña has been declared in the Pacific Ocean, it would take longer than a few wet years for the sustained future of Lake George to be secured. The fluctuations it has seen in recent years are likely to be ongoing

“You’re relying on the rainfall being relatively high during a long period of time,” he says. “You’d want to have a run of La Niñas and I can’t say whether that will happen or not.

“You’ve got to remember the weather is getting warmer as well and the summers are hot. It’s the hot summers that really kill the water in Lake George because evaporation is much higher.”

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28 Responses to Heavy regional rainfall has Lake George as full as its been since 2017
BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 5:41 pm 02 Dec 21

I recall my father and I taking the boat out on the western shore in the mid 1960s, where the water has yet to return. It was deep enough near the road to run an outboard motor without snagging.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:12 pm 02 Dec 21

I think groundwater that enters the artesian aquifers originatesin mountainous country through rock strata. The water in Lake George only evaporates.

Luke Shaw Luke Shaw 2:53 pm 01 Dec 21

Way more than 2017

Guint Kent Guint Kent 1:13 pm 01 Dec 21

They just keep pumping the ground water out it will empty in no time

    Patrick Keogh Patrick Keogh 5:04 pm 02 Dec 21

    What percentage goes into replenishing groundwater compared to what is list to evaporation?

Gail Sanders Gail Sanders 5:02 pm 29 Nov 21

Paul Cooney this is better than the photo I sent you

Kate O'Hara Kate O'Hara 10:55 am 29 Nov 21

Anthony O'Hara

Rien Wiersma Rien Wiersma 6:53 am 29 Nov 21

Raiders will win the Grand Final Jack Josef Brzozowski

Wayne Lutter Wayne Lutter 8:32 pm 28 Nov 21

When we first got to Canberra in 91 , it was just below the single road that we had to use to go to Goulburn.

    Charlie Williams Charlie Williams 9:06 pm 28 Nov 21

    Wayne Lutter don't forget Tim flannery - it will never rain again!

    Charlie Williams Charlie Williams 9:08 pm 28 Nov 21

    In my time it was up and down all the time and didn't really seem to have anything to do with local rainfall- pub talk in queanbeyan reckoned it was coming from all sorts of places

    Kevin Wode Kevin Wode 8:38 am 29 Nov 21

    Wayne Lutter I remember those days

Bernard Eddey Bernard Eddey 3:56 pm 28 Nov 21

I remember catching a fish, a redfin perch, just off the highway in 1967.

Renelle Pearce Renelle Pearce 3:34 pm 28 Nov 21

Robyn Maloney show Ron -

Ted Oxenham Ted Oxenham 11:32 am 28 Nov 21

Would be cool, I've only known it as a baron eyesore

Margaret Maher Margaret Maher 11:29 am 28 Nov 21

And like it was in 1983, right up to the road. Poor sheep weren't happy.

Sam Creighton Sam Creighton 9:50 pm 27 Nov 21

Kiah Creighton 4 years ago

Kate Eliza Kate Eliza 9:16 pm 27 Nov 21

Haha Tim Flannery 😄 never rain again eh?

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 9:26 pm 27 Nov 21

    Kate Eliza Show me where he said that.

    Shaan Sewak Shaan Sewak 1:32 pm 28 Nov 21

    Rob Chalmers https://www.abc.net.au/local/archives/landline/content/2006/s1844398.htm

    "Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers... even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems"

Christian Beekes Christian Beekes 8:27 pm 27 Nov 21

Michelle - if only we took a photo. Haha

    Rick S Tar Rick S Tar 9:49 pm 28 Nov 21

    Michelle Kwan a better camera and or drone would of captured the moment better. Cyber Monday still has some sales.

    Michelle Kwan Michelle Kwan 12:23 am 29 Nov 21

    *looks for helicopter on cyber Monday sales to get the best aerial shot

Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 8:23 pm 27 Nov 21

Except the road has changed so where it laps

Will change

Greg Blood Greg Blood 8:20 pm 27 Nov 21

I remember the speedboats in the1960s

Sarah Guna Sarah Guna 8:15 pm 27 Nov 21

Joanne Takiari Our conversation as we drove past today.

Scottie Zuxkerberg Scottie Zuxkerberg 8:04 pm 27 Nov 21

Weather and Climate in Australia have always been fairly extreme and long term weather / climate data shows its still pretty much the same today. We did just come out of a drought where we have lovely blue sky, fair weather and humans love those conditions.. going back to the normal stormy weather and hot summers is just par for the course..

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:52 pm 28 Nov 21


    Nothing “unprecedented” to see here.

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