Water restrictions will be introduced in Port Stephens for the first time in 25 years in response to the state's worst drought on record.
Level one water restrictions will be in effect across the Lower Hunter area from September 16, Hunter Water announced at Grahamstown Dam, the area's largest drinking water resource, on Friday.
"This period that we are just coming out of tends to be the wet period where we top up our storage supplies but we've had very little rain," Hunter Water's acting chief executive officer Graham Wood said.
"We expect the dry weather from now on, as we move into spring and summer. When we get dry weather on top of an earlier dry season, we're in trouble. Without rain, we're considering the worst case scenario.
"This time last year we were down to 80 per cent [water capacity]. Now, we're getting close to 60 per cent. That's a big difference."
The level one restrictions focus on reducing outdoor water usage, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the Lower Hunter's total drinking water consumption.
The level one water restriction guidelines are:
- Outdoor watering is permitted before 10am or after 4pm with a trigger nozzle hose
- All hand held hoses must have a trigger nozzle
- No hosing of hard surfaces such as concrete, paths and driveways
- All vehicles should be washed with a bucket, trigger nozzle hose or pressure cleaner
- No sprinklers are to be used
Darren Cleary, Hunter Water's executive drought lead, said the Lower Hunter community had been proactive in preserving water in response to the drought.
But he said that if the hot and dry conditions worsened, storage levels continued to drop and residents didn't do their part to conserve water, the area could be at level two restrictions by the end of the year.
"This is a severe drought. It is important that we as a community we work together to love water," he said.
"The community is using less water than we expect they would have up until now given the climatic conditions but there's more than we can do.
"Water restrictions are also important for our commercial industrial customers. We're working with them to put in water efficiency management plans.
"We understand for many businesses water is essential to their business continuity so we're working with businesses to look at how we can assist them with being as efficient as they can be."
As of Friday, August 23, Grahamstown Dam's water capacity was 63.3 per cent.
Level one water restrictions are triggered when the dam reaches 60 per cent full, which, with the long-term forecast predicting continued hot and dry weather, Hunter Water anticipates will happen mid-September.
Hunter Water's other water assets in Port Stephens and the Lower Hunter were also depleting to the 60 per cent mark. On Friday, the Tomago Sandbeds were at 69.7 per cent capacity and Chichester Dam at 64.7 per cent.
The Anna Bay Sandbeds were showing the lowest capacity, being just 51.2 per cent full.
"With no significant rainfall on the horizon, the introduction of level one water restrictions forms an important part of Hunter Water's drought response to help reduce demand on the water supply," Melinda Pavey, the NSW minister for water, said.
"The drought is more severe than NSW has ever experienced. While autumn and winter are typically the highest rainfall seasons for the Lower Hunter, the rainfall has not eventuated, causing the region's dams to fall to their lowest levels in more than two decades."
Mr Wood said in response to the drought and impending water restrictions, Hunter Water was looking at reducing leakage across its 5000 kilometre water network and invest in assets and resources focused on water conservation, storage and supply.
"We're investing additional resources to respond to and repair leaks across our network even quicker," he said.
"We're already looking at what assets we can build to protect against the drought, what other supplies we can find. But there's no quick fix. We can't build things instantaneously."
Mr Wood added that Hunter Water was also looking at resources it could tap if the Lower Hunter dam levels continued to drop and identified the Central Coast as one.
The Lower Hunter and Central Coast water supply systems are connected via a pipeline linking reservoirs at Kanwal and Morisset.
The pipeline link between the two regions was used to supply water when storages reached very low levels during the last drought.
"The Central Coast transfer gives both parties a bigger catchment area," Mr Wood said.
"What will happen now is when we hit 60 per cent and if the Central Coast storage is high enough we can take water from them.
"Even though their storage is, in per centage terms, lower, at different times they allow us to take water from them. And it works the other way around. If we're at 80 and they're at 40, they can take water from us.
"We don't lose the capacity, we actually get a safety net. It does work quite well."