This is the second story in a three-part series looking at why Port Macquarie-Hastings is relatively well-placed for water storage when compared with other cities and towns across the state and Australia. What does the future of water use look like?
The former water supply manager with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Murray Thompson says we need to understand the true value of that most precious of commodities, water.
Two decades ago, Mr Thompson was at the cutting edge of technology when council decided to - amongst many other water saving initiatives - build the Cowarra Dam.
He says there needs to be more understanding of just how precious water is.
"I think people in urban areas need to value water far more than what we do at the moment," Murray said.
"The farming community is very good at knowing the value of water, particularly the water they pump.
We are experiencing hotter hots and wetter wets; everything we have modelled on is going to change.Murray Thompson
"We can't continue to take water from the ground, from the rivers, without thinking about the long term impact.
"Climate change is going to alter the way the water flows in our rivers and how our groundwater systems work.
"We are experiencing hotter hots and wetter wets; everything we have modelled on is going to change," he said.
"I think we have to be very mindful that this is not an unlimited resource; that we can just continue to take more and more (water).
"We need to get clever about using the water we access and make it go a lot further," he said.
Dams as storage
In 1981 when Murray started with council, dams - or more specifically off-creek water storage - was the key to securing the water security for a region.
While dams will continue to be part of the solution to water security, they are really just big holes in the ground.
Off-creek storage the term used to describe a place where water from the river is pumped when it is available to a holding area. That pumping is dependent on the flow and quality of the water in the river.
Those two constraints can determine how much and when that water is pumped, which affects water supply.
"When the water is adequate from a flow and quality perspective, we can put that water resource in the off-creek storage area and use it as required," Murray said.
The off-creek storage system is more cost effective and comes with less environmental impacts.
You need to plan properly for this kind of infrastructure and have vision for the future.
"I have always tried to look at the very long term - 50 years, 100 years - and ask, where do we want to be," Murray said.
"Technology is going to continue to change, so whatever we put in in terms of hard infrastructure needs to be flexible to the changing climate and the changing technology.
"We can't lock ourselves in to one solution at the expense of others.
"The way Port Macquarie-Hastings is placed with our off-creek storage (Cowarra and Port Macquarie dams) is good.
"But we have more opportunities to utilise recycled water and to work with treated stormwater and treated effluent."
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann says Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is always looking at technology advancements and new ways to capture, re-use and better manage water throughout the catchment.
"Council manages drinking water, stormwater and sewage.
"The community has been fabulous in reducing water use, and council is continually promoting that.
"But council is also planning some big long-term water infrastructure projects - filtration to allow pumping in both extreme high river flows and extreme low dam levels, plus raising the walls of Cowarra Dam to nearly double the existing storage capacity."
She said there is some interesting energy technology that could be looked at, like mini spinning turbines for the pipes exiting Cowarra Dam, to generate electricity that can then be used to pump water into the dam, or for other uses.
"Council should also definitely look at more and better water re-use and recycling. I've seen what they do in Singapore and its amazing.
"But I think the most important advances will come from people caring more about the water they use, not just in the house but also in the garden and on farms."
She said there was some impressive work on the benefits of slowing water down in any landscape, letting it sink into the surrounding ground before it overflows to the next place where the water is again slowed.
"In a farming context, they're called 'leaky weirs' and they offer very low tech drought resistance that can be installed at low cost at multiple places along the same creek - if the government gets progressive enough to allow them.
"By slowing water flow across land and down creeks its kept much longer in the vicinity, especially if trees are also grown there."
The deputy mayor said that more discussion is needed about conserving and better using water around the home and garden.
"It really shocks me to see people still hosing their car off with the water running straight to the gutter, or regularly hosing their driveways, or letting taps or hoses run unattended.
"Even if people think it is their right, this is still quality drinking water being mis-used when we need to value it - every drop, drought or not."
At its November 20 meeting, council voted to introduce level 3 water restrictions earlier than expected.
The decision was made in view of falling dam levels, ongoing bushfire threat and no significant rainfall in sight.
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