Locals are determined to beat Day Zero - and hundreds of them came to Armidale Regional Council's National Water Week expo at this month's Markets in the Mall on Sunday.
Councillors (including deputy mayor Libby Martin), CEO Susan Law, and business manager Scot MacDonald answered questions and provided information to nearly 500 people about how to save water.
The day, Mr MacDonald said, was for council to hear from the community - who brought a wide range of issues.
"People are concerned; there's no doubt," Mr MacDonald said. "They're asking how we're going; how long the water's going to last; and what we're doing as a council. We're getting a lot of questions, and a lot of feedback."
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Drought, Mr MacDonald said, was a new situation for most people. Circumstances differed depending on age; family size; whether people lived in town or out of it; in a new house or an old one; and on the age of their household equipment.
Under Level Five water restrictions, Council has encouraged people to use no more than 160 litres of water a day each - but many citizens use fewer. Some, Mr MacDonald said, use as little as 50 to 80 litres a day - less than half the target amount.
"There's a lot of consciousness about [water usage]," Mr MacDonald said. "I'm comforted in a lot of ways about the awareness level."
Water usage, council's Joanna Harrison said, had fallen to below average. "We're very close to our target; we need to do a bit more, keep going, and sustain it."
"Keep doing what you're doing to save water everyday!" Ms Harrison urged. "It's working! It's not about what we do now; it's what we do long-term. These practices need to be maintained."
Older residents, Mr MacDonald said, were proud of their water savings, using less water to wash clothes or dishes; others collected grey water to keep roses alive, or planted natives rather than thirsty European plants in their gardens.
Mr MacDonald encouraged the public to take advantage of council rebates on washing machines, shower heads, and rainwater tanks. A top-load washing machine, for instance, can take 200 litres of water to fill - more than someone's daily ration; a front-load machine might only use 40 or 50 litres. (Council also gave visitors a chance to win a front-loader.)
Mrs Law thought the water shortage message was finally getting across, and the community was taking it up with alacrity.
"People are taking saving water quite seriously, and they're making quite big changes in their personal lives to do that."
The water expo is one of many council outreach schemes during this drought. "Wherever there's an opportunity, we'll take it out there," Mr MacDonald said.
Earlier this month, council addressed the Armidale Business Chamber and Rotary; they will hold information sessions for other community groups, such as the Armidale Family Support Group, over the next three months. "If they don't come to us," Ms Harrison said, "we'll go to them!"
Council's water experts - sustainability officer Sally Thorsteinsson and plumbers - had met businesses (including big water users) to work through their water savings plans.
"We're not saying to big businesses: 'Get on with it!'" Mrs Law explained. "We're saying: 'We'll help you.'"
Mrs Law said council would do everything it could to push Day Zero further out.
"It is really all we can do. We can't make it rain," she said.
Long-term, Mrs Law said, council were looking at more storage in the dams, and maybe even starting to think about reusing grey water to potable quality.
Council opened tenders to extend the Malpas Dam Wall, doubling its capacity from 13,000 to 26,000 million litres. Even in the best case scenario, however, Mr MacDonald said earlier this month, the extension would not be completed until mid-2024.
Water recycling, Mr MacDonald warned at the same time, could be expensive. Council's preliminary research suggested water could cost about $7 a kilogram - three times what we pay now. Tamworth's council has already rejected the suggestion purely on cost.
Mrs Law also suggested that the state government may help council fund water saving rebates; at this stage, council provided all the funding.
"We think that it is worthwhile diverting resources into helping people save water, because we do have a bit of an emergency on at the moment," she said.
Mrs Law said council had not yet applied to the state government for the funding.
"We may not be able to beat off the forces of nature - but we're doing everything in our control to beat Day Zero," Mrs Law said. "There's always room for hope. Every day the dam doesn't fall more is another day we've got further beyond Day Zero."
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