Update: This story has been updated with statements from a press conference with Tamworth's mayor Russell Webb
Tamworth Regional Council has taken a step towards preparing the city for the next drought, but says it's a drop in the ocean compared to what the state government can achieve with a few simple actions.
But councillors said there is much more work to be done to enhance Tamworth's water security that can only be done at the state level.
"Leading into the drought in 2016, both dams were at full capacity. The difference is now we have information from the worst drought we've ever experienced. The state government needs to act on that now because if they don't act on it we'll end up in the same situation: trucking and training in water and still not having enough to support our current community," Cr Phil Betts said.
Chaffey Dam, Tamworth's main water supply, is managed by state-owned corporation Water NSW, which councillors have criticised heavily for conducting large environmental releases from the dam during the 2016 to 2019 drought period, widely considered to be one of the worst in living memory.
With current weather conditions mirroring those of 2016, councillors said the state government must learn from the past.
"At the start of this current El Nino event we have full capacity in our storage. It is a management issue and as we go through this it's absolutely imperative that the state government really manages our water resource because we have got enough water, and they need to manage it," Cr Betts said.
A couple of councillors said even a small change to the state's Peel Valley Water Sharing Plan would make a huge difference to the region's water security.
"I think the crux of our issues is when we slip into deeper drought the Peel Valley Water Sharing Plan has not changed and that's exactly what we'll need," Cr Mark Rodda said.
The water sharing plan is laid out by the NSW government to balance the interests of water users in the state, and has been a bone of contention between Tamworth council and the local irrigation industry for years.
The plan also sets the standards for the aforementioned, hotly-contested environmental water releases.
"We'd like them to control releases because as we saw in the last drought, even when our residents make the savings, Water NSW didn't make the savings we expected them to, which is why we were put in that position of facing almost-dead storage at the start of 2020," Cr Rodda said.
Cr Rodda then called for Tamworth council to have a meeting with NSW water minister Rose Jackson.
Mayor Russell Webb, who has been working closely with the water minister, told councillors the state government is aware of their concerns and that changes are in the pipeline.
"We do need a change in that water sharing plan, and I think that is going to happen. I think there will be some movement on that these coming months," Cr Webb said.
The mayor also thanked the Tamworth community for reducing water use from an average of 350 kilolitres per household in 2007, down to about 270 kilolitres per household today.
"We're way down in comparison to many other regional centres across NSW," Cr Webb said.
There was also mention of the new "cutting edge" water purification facility council is currently seeking approval for, and how that might impact the newly-adopted Drought Management Plan.
The mayor said the project "hasn't even started construction," so it isn't considered in the new plan, but will "definitely" have an impact on the drought plan in the future.
The water purification facility is being considered as part of a long-term Water Security Plan for Tamworth, which the council is currently preparing and has previously said will take two to three years to develop.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Tamworth mayor Russell Webb stressed the need for the state government to get involved to help the city survive the next drought.
"What I'm saying to [the NSW water minister], and to others, is we need to do that now while the dams are full. We can't wait until they're half full or getting close to empty. We need to do that work right now," Cr Webb said.
He said NSW water minister Rose Jackson is "very receptive" to the idea of changing the Peel Valley Water Sharing Plan to allow Tamworth residents greater access to reserves from Chaffey Dam, something Tamworth Regional Council and local community groups have been demanding for years.
"We have forwarded her a letter demonstrating some of the things that happened when the dam was full in 2016 and then became very close to empty in '19, that's something she's very aware of,"
"We'll be talking to her again very soon, but she's very keen to get that [plan] modified so we're not going to get into a situation that we got into before."
The mayor also said the council is "fully focused" on finalising plans for an "innovative" water purification plant to take the town's four biggest industrial water consumers off the main water supply.
"If we can get that water purification plant up and running, which is something we really have to do, that is something that would really take the pressure off water issues for Tamworth," Cr Webb said.
Once the business case for the purification plant is finished, Cr Webb said kitting it out with the "latest design" would be quick to follow so construction can begin ASAP.
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