Water filling stations established to assist rural households in the Armidale region are set to become a national pilot for a new system to ensure the facilities properly target the people they are designed to assist.
Council is working with service provider Card Access Service to trial software that would enable rural residents to have a credit or debit card preapproved to use at the water filling stations.
The system would enable better monitoring of who and how often people are accessing the stations, which were installed in Armidale and Guyra to help rural residents who were running out of domestic water supplies because of the ongoing drought.
The registration and preapproval of cards will prevent a repeat of apparent misuse of the filling station service that occurred last year, when the stations were believed to have been used by people from outside the local government area, Armidale region town residents using the water for non-approved uses under ongoing water restrictions and rural residents accessing more than the approved amounts.
Mayor Simon Murray said a number of councils were looking at implementing a similar approach but the Armidale region was set to be the first to have the system in place.
Final preparations for the trial coincide with the commissioning of a third filling station.
The additional station is now in place on Grafton Road, on the eastern outskirts of Armidale, complementing the existing stations at the McKie Parkway in Guyra and the Arboretum in Armidale.
"Use of the filling stations is currently low, with many rural households enjoying the fact their water tanks are full or close to full," Cr Murray said.
"However, weather projections for this year and beyond would suggest the stations could be in demand again in the foreseeable future.
"Certainly, long-term predictions of where our climate is headed indicate the filling stations will remain a valuable asset for rural residents at times in the future, despite effective planning and preparations by the households themselves."
In addition, the filling stations will become the points of water access for local water carting businesses.
The new station on Grafton Road, like the facility at Guyra, has a larger 80mm outlet, in addition to the 25mm outlet for standard hose fittings. The Arboretum station has a 25mm and a 50mm outlet.
The new facility on Grafton Road is designed primarily for water carters. It allows for easy access and loading and will ease congestion and reduce vehicle interactions at the Arboretum.
Cr Murray said their switch to accessing water from the stations would have two benefits.
It would streamline the provision of water and the process of recording its consumption, bringing valuable cost savings.
"It will also help track how much water is being carted and where it is going to," he said.
"Carters will also access the stations using preapproved cards and that, combined with the log books carters are required to maintain, will verify the quantities and destinations of that water."
"The provision of another filling station and the preapproved cards are both intended to improve rural residents' access to the water, particularly during periods of high demand."
He said the card system would ensure the targeted beneficiaries aren't waiting in a queue behind people who should not be accessing the stations.
"It will also help curb overall consumption at times when water conservation measures are in place," Cr Murray said.
"Level 5 water restrictions remain in place for the Armidale region, with our town water storage at just half its capacity, so we must continue to take every step possible to conserve and protect our remaining supplies."
Further information about the preapproved card system and how to register will be made available closer to its launch.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.