The Guyra / Armidale Regional Ratepayers Association - Water Committee has accused Armidale Regional Council of putting the Costa tomato farm before the needs of Guyra residents, and of refusing to enlarge Guyra Dam.
Spokesman Robert Lenehan said his group were committed to help ARC resolve and plan for the future in relation to the water crises of both Armidale and Guyra.
"All communities, residents, and ratepayers of ARC need to to lobby hard to convince council that consultation and listening to their concerns is vitally important for water security into the future," Mr Lenehan said.
Mayor Simon Murray, on the other hand, called them "a small, unrepresentative group". (ARRA's Facebook page has 87 likes and 99 followers.)
Ratepayers, community members, and former Guyra Shire and Armidale Dumaresq councillors met in Guyra on Sunday.
The general feeling, according to Mr Lenehan, was one of anger and dissatisfaction with council.
Costa Tomato Farm: Nightmare on Elm Street?
"Armidale Regional Council would appear to be protecting the profitability of a mostly foreign-owned tomato farm before the town residents and businesses now under Level 5 restrictions," Mr Lenehan said.
Costa's Elm Street tomato farm, the Water Committee claim, used an average of 670 kls of water daily in April and May, slightly reduced in June - compared to an average daily ues of 440 kls by the township.
"One must question councils' current arrangements with the Costa Group, and the Mayor's claims that they have reduced consumption of water by 60 per cent," Mr Lenehan said. "The meter readings are not supporting his claims."
The Water Committee asked council to provide by Monday, August 12, the original Guyra Shire Council resolution and agreement documentation with Costa's, including the details of the Development Application made to construct and operate a hydroponic tomato farm on Elm Street, Guyra.
They also asked for details of any subsequent agreements made with Costa's during transition and formation of the ARC.
"It is essential that this information is made available to the communities and ratepayers of ARC, particularly now that water has to be trucked from Armidale to Guyra to maintain the townships' potable water supply," Mr Lenehan said.
"Without this information, it is impossible to provide any assistance to the CEO and Mayor, who are obviously struggling to alleviate the present water crises."
The Water Committee's "scapegoating" of Costa was "unreasonable and discriminatory", Cr Murray retorted.
"Most of the residents in Guyra (and Armidale) have been responsible, and understand the need to conserve water," Cr Murray said. "There are other major businesses who are big water users. We have worked closely with all of them to reduce their consumption.
"The Council is here for all ratepayers, including businesses - and it is a balance between eking out our remaining water, and doing major damage to our regional economy by cutting off water supplies to businesses, which include UNE, the hospital, and all the schools."
The Elm Street glasshouse, council said in March (LINK), uses recycled water and captured rainwater. In times of lower rainfall, such as the present drought, the glasshouse uses two bores to supply water, rather than taking from the main supply.
While Costa use mains supply water for growing tomatoes, drinking water, toilets, and showers, the company upgraded their system last year to reduce use of fresh mains water, save up to 22.5 megalitres of drain water a year, and recycle 85 per cent of their drain water.
The glasshouse on the New England Highway has a closed water cycle, using recycled water, and does not require water from outside the site.
Council intends to raise Malpas Dam wall by five metres and double the reservoir's capacity to 26,000 megalitres - but, the Water Committee alleged, they refused to consider the possibility of increasing Guyra Dam's holding capacity by raising the No. 2 Guyra dam wall or de-silting it.
"This would be a quick and cost-effective way of alleviating the pressure on the Malpas dam system once reasonable rain events return," Mr Lenehan said.
"The Guyra dams will have to be filled before Malpas receives any significant runoff. Increasing Malpas wall by five metres is most definitely needed, but will cost millions and is a long-term project."
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall and the Water Minister support both the Guyra and Malpas Dam proposals, Mr Lenehan claimed - "but they are having difficulty getting the message through to Council".
Cr Murray said he was not sure why this group thought they knew better than council's water engineers, who maintain that increasing the capacity of Malpas is far and away the most effective way of drought-proofing the region in the future.
"Our limited resource means we cannot be chasing all rabbits down holes," Cr Murray said. "We're too busy trying to make sure we don't run out of water."
"This may provide some relief if suitable bores can be installed after exploratory and test drilling, which will take some considerable time," Mr Lenehan said.