The Armidale region is facing a town water supply crisis.
Confronted by the worst drought in this area in recorded history, the frightening reality is our region is on a trajectory to run out water in a little over a year unless things change dramatically.
This drought is having a major impact on the water supplies in several towns, from Warwick in Queensland to Orange in the NSW Central West, and some are facing the prospect of running out of water even sooner than our 'day zero'.
While the onus is on everyone in the community to conserve the water we have left, and stretch out the supply for as long as possible, council is doing everything it can to ensure residents and businesses continue to have water in their taps.
We employ highly qualified and specialist staff on our water management team, supplemented by external expertise where appropriate. The team has been singularly focused on examining all feasible options for the region's town water:
- in the short term to supplement and prolong the supply, and what we can do if the worst happens and we run out;
- in the long term so we don't have this situation again.
In the short-term to preserve our remaining supplies:
- Working with ground water experts to find sites likely to have sustainable ground water supplies suitable to supplement our existing water reserves;
- Engaging and managing a transport contractor to truck essential treated water from Armidale to Guyra;
- Engaging and managing water pipe monitoring experts to locate any hidden leaks in the distribution network;
- Immediately repairing identified leaks;
- Managing the installation of the Malpas Dam to Guyra pipeline so it is operational four months ahead the original schedule, minimising the need to truck water;
- Developing water conservation plans with a number of major water users and constantly monitoring their consumption;
- Constant education and communication to residents (information stalls, water-saving showerhead giveaways, brochures, advertising, information materials sent directly to homes, liaison with media, social media campaigns);
- Education initiatives in schools and preschools.
Long-term initiatives to create more drought-resilient town water supplies for the future:
- Feasibility studies and designs for raising the Malpas Dam wall;
- Investigating options to further excavate and/or desilt dams;
- Examine the feasibility of other future water sources, such as desalination and reuse options for treated waste water;
- Investigating the installation of smart meters that allow real time tracking of water use.
Needless to say, all of our water team and, indeed, all council staff understand that dealing with the water challenges looming above us now and into the future is our highest priority. There is no single or easy solution.
Many suggestions have been received from the public and all realistic options have been or are being investigated. However, not all are feasible or offer sufficient benefit to warrant the resources required for their implementation.
While all this is happening, the water team and council's supporting units are doing everything they can to keep the community informed and respond to enquiries from the public.
While this process draws them away from their primary roles, at a time when resources are fully stretched, it is important we have a community that is well aware of the situation and completely on board with preserving our water supply.
At the same time, community members must appreciate and respect that responding to public enquiries must sometimes take a back seat to focusing on the water management tasks at hand. They need to be allowed to get on with the job.
It is also important we avoid the tendency to play the blame game during difficult times. Our resilience in dealing with the crisis will depend on us all working together and doing our bit.
That unity will only be weakened when we resort to apportioning blame. In particular, the continued scapegoating of Costas - the intensive horticulture industry in Guyra - is not only unreasonable, it's discriminatory.
There are other major businesses that are big water users and council is working with each of them to curb consumption.
Costas has been responsible in minimising its own water use and continues to look at ways to make savings.
As an organisation that has chosen to become a part of our community, it is well aware of the importance of our continued water security to protect its survival and the livelihoods of the hundreds of people it employs - not to mention the local businesses that benefit from providing services to the company and its workers.
Council needs to balance the supply of water to all users to enable us to go about our lives and essential activities, including businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy.
Consumption levels show many residents and businesses are doing a fantastic job at curbing their water use and we would like to express our considerable gratitude for their efforts.
There is still a lot of room for our community as a whole to significantly cut consumption levels, by getting everyone on board to deal with a drought that has left us in unchartered territory.
This region has been proud of the fact it has never faced water restrictions but our first taste of water shortages is so severe we genuinely face the prospect of running out altogether.
The drought will break eventually. When it does, we need to ensure our way of life and economy are not decimated by the way we have managed this crisis.