THE UNEXPLAINED 12 Olympic swimming pools worth of water that surge down the Peel River each week have led to a political game of whodunnit.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said last week he brokered a "breakthrough" deal with Water Minister Melinda Pavey and Environment Minister Matt Kean to cease environmental flows from Chaffey Dam "immediately".
A week on, and Tamworth's drinking water is not secured, with political fingers pointed at a local, state and federal government level and no answers as to why, or when releases will stop. Mr Anderson said that documents to stop the environmental flows were awaiting final sign-off.
It's unclear exactly whose signature is needed to make it happen as Mr Anderson blamed the Department of Primary Industries and Environment, the state and federal environment ministers, Water Minister Melinda Pavey and at one stage WaterNSW.
WaterNSW cannot make decisions on releases from Chaffey Dam, it just operates the dam and delivers the water that is ordered by the state government and Tamworth Regional Council.
Mr Anderson maintained that he did not miscommunicate or misunderstand the deal, and that he had been assured the flows would stop.
"The environment and water ministers have assured me that the bulk of environmental flows at a state level would stay in Chaffey Dam and the river health would be monitored up until October where it would be reassessed," he said.
"If the departments haven't got their documentation right then they should get that sorted."
The federal government does not have any environmental water in Chaffey Dam or in the Peel Valley at this time.
A spokesman for federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said it had no jurisdiction over state water releases.
"While there are limited NSW environmental reserves in Chaffey Dam, under the state's authorisation there is currently no requirement for environmental water to be released unless it is directed by the NSW government," she said.
Ms Pavey and Mr Kean both granted approval to operate the Chaffey Dam pipeline, which will see Tamworth's town water supply make it to the treatment plant with no transmission losses in the Peel River.
The federal government on Friday signed off its final approval for the pipeline, but this is a separate issue to the state government ordered environmental releases from Chaffey Dam.
It means all of the town water will be delivered through the pipeline, and should extend the supply by at least six months without further rain, Ms Ley said.
"I have provided the approval a week ahead of the statutory deadline, reflecting the urgency of this decision, while at the same time having ensured that rigorous assessment processes included consideration of threatened species and their habitat," she said.
Given the environmental releases from Chaffey Dam are a decision for the state government, the Leader asked Water Minister Melinda Pavey when those flows would be stopped as part of the "immediate"' deal with Mr Anderson.
A spokeswoman for Ms Pavey said the releases would stop when the dam level reached 10 per cent, which had always been the case.
"WaterNSW is legally required to provide a minimum amount of water for environmental purposes until the dam reaches 10 per cent," she said.
"Kevin Anderson is correct that environmental flows will cease, however, we are not yet at that trigger point."
The dam level is at 14 per cent, and once it reaches 10 per cent residents will be forced onto a 100L per person, per day target.
Even Tamworth Regional Council acting mayor Phil Betts was confounded by the situation.
"We're quite concerned that they haven't stopped now," he said.
"This absolutely needs clarification because I'm not sure how the government agencies communicate, it needs to be open and transparent so we have a full understanding and can plan for the worst-case scenario.
"We totally rely on our future projections when the dam is at low-level capacity."
Mr Betts said the council was considering options for if the dam ran dry and that in the worst-case scenario, Tamworth has just more than 12 months of water left in the dam.