Water restrictions


There are currently no water restrictions in place across the MidCoast region.

Our water restrictions system

Four of the six water supply systems we operate on the MidCoast draw water from nearby rivers. When the levels in these rivers fall too low for us to pump and we can no longer keep our storage dams full, we need to introduce water restrictions.

We use a five-step system to manage water restrictions across the MidCoast.

Sometimes we have different towns on different levels of water restrictions, depending on the situation at each of our supply rivers.water-restriction-graphic.jpg


Moderate restrictions (Level 1)

Restrict outdoor water use to handheld hoses for no more than one hour every second day, before 9am or after 4pm. Garden irrigation systems can be used for 15 minutes as part of your one-hour allocation.

High Restrictions (Level 2)

Restrict outdoor water use to handheld hoses for no more than 30 minutes every second day, before 9am or after 4pm. Garden irrigation systems can be used for 15 minutes as part of your one-hour allocation.

Very high restrictions (Level 3)

Restrict outdoor water use to handheld hoses for no more than 10 minutes every second day, before 9am or after 4pm. Garden irrigation systems cannot be used during Level 3 restrictions.

How every second day works:
If your house is an even number, you can water on the even days of the month - the 2nd, 4th, 6th etc. If your house is an odd number, you can water on the odd days of the month - the 1st, 3rd, 5th etc. Residents cannot use water outdoors on the 31st of the month.

Severe restrictions (Level 4)

Outdoor water use is banned during Level 4 restrictions.

Emergency restrictions (Level 5)

Emergency restrictions may be introduced if the situation becomes very serious and water supplies are running low. Council will advise residents of what they are required to do in this situation. 

When do we consider water restrictions?

MidCoast Council operates five water supply schemes – four of which are reliant on the flows of nearby rivers.

The Manning scheme, which provides water to customers from Crowdy Head in the north to Tarbuck Bay in the south, draws its water from the Manning River. We have a storage dam at Bootawa, which is filled by pumping water from the Manning River just upstream from Wingham.

This pumping is reliant on good flows in the river. The Gloucester water supply is similarly reliant on flows in the Barrington River, Stroud on the Karuah River and Bulahdelah on the Crawford River.

It is when river levels fall too low to allow pumping and storage dams can’t be kept at capacity that we may need to look at introducing water restrictions.

Once we can no longer pump from the river and the dam/storage starts to fall, we usually move into 'moderate' water restrictions. 'Moderate' restrictions limit the use of water outdoors to one hour every second day with a handheld hose.

'Severe' restrictions are usually implemented on the Manning scheme when water storage levels drop to between 50% - 73% capacity. These restrictions ban all outdoor water use and urge the community to be careful with their indoor use.

An emergency restriction period is entered when we are forced to draw into the deep storage of Bootawa Dam.

A similar situation operates for the Barrington, Karuah and Crawford rivers. As these areas rely on their own water source, sometimes we do have different towns on different water restriction levels.

The Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest water supply is sourced from an underground aquifer and is not as dependent on seasonal climatic variations, however at times restrictions may be required.

Your business and water restrictions

If you’re operating a business on the MidCoast, you may face some challenges during water restrictions periods. We recognise that you play a vital role in our community, providing important services, economic security and employment – and enhancing our community’s sense of well-being and lifestyle.

We want to work with you to ensure any impact on your business is minimised, while conserving as much water as possible during restrictions.

The following information provides you with a guide to how you are required to implement water restrictions, which are mandatory.

If you require more information, you can ask us anything about your business and water restrictions on the form below.

When water restrictions are required, they are implemented as part of a five-step system that is common across the NSW north coast.

At all levels, if you’re using water outside for non-production purposes (eg. watering your business premises’ garden, or washing work vehicles) you’re required to comply with the same restrictions as residential water customers. For production-related water use, check the fact sheets below, or contact us via the online form below.

Moderate restrictions (Level 1) and High restrictions (Level 2)

At these levels, businesses are required to restrict outdoor water use, with some exemptions. If you require exemptions, or would like to develop a water management plan, please complete the online form below.

For a guide to restrictions at this level, check the Business Moderate Restrictions fact sheet(PDF, 337KB)  and Business High Restrictions fact sheet(PDF, 354KB) .

Very High restrictions (Level 3)

Tighter restrictions apply for businesses using water outdoors. You should contact us to complete a water management plan at this level of restrictions, by completing the online form below.

For a guide to restrictions at this level, check the Business Very High Restrictions fact sheet(PDF, 392KB).

Severe water restrictions (Level 4)

Most outdoor water use is banned, unless you have an agreement, via a water management plan, in place with Council.

For a guide to restrictions at this level, check the Business Severe Restrictions fact sheet(PDF, 366KB).


A further level, emergency restrictions, could be enacted if the situation becomes very serious and water supplies are running low. Depending on the particular situation, we will advise businesses of what you are required to do.

Need more help?

You can complete and submit the form below if you have more questions, or require any assistance with implementing water restrictions for your business.

Click here to view form.

Water Restrictions - Q and A s

Below are some frequently asked questions about water restrictions. If your question relates to your business, please submit the form on the business section above instead of here.

Q: When does Council decide to drop back restrictions?

A: We monitor river flows as well as the rain predictions for the coming weeks and months, and if we are able to pump to refill our water storages, we then are confident we can wind back water restrictions after a shortage. We’ve also now got increased back-up supply – with the improvements at the Nabiac Aquifer (extra bores were sunk so that we can extract more water in future shortages). It has effectively doubled the water security we previously had.

Under legislation, we are only permitted to have restrictions in place when there is a genuine shortage of water. Water restrictions do affect many businesses across our region. We’re keen to keep our local economy and local jobs going strong.

Q: How do you decide when to introduce water restrictions?

A: We operate five water supplies across the region, four of which are dependent on river flows. Our pumps extract water from these rivers, into water storages in the case of the Stroud and Manning supplies. During periods of extended dry weather, if river levels drop below the pumps, we are unable to pump water to replenish the storages. This means we are reliant on the capacity of the water storage, and we can't top it up.

Our water restrictions system follows the four-step system commonly used by North Coast Councils. The system consists of four levels - Moderate, High, Very High and Severe. Each level is triggered when our water storages drop to a certain level, and each level has a daily usage target that we are aiming to reduce total consumption by.

For example, our largest scheme, the Manning has the following system:

Level:             Water storage capacity:       Summer season usage target:
Moderate                     <100%                                     24 Ml per day
Very high                     < 73%                                      20 Ml per day
Severe                         < 50% - 73%                           17 Ml per day

Q: Restrictions often seem to start when tourist season is over. Does visitor water use cause low water supply?

A: No. Decreased water supply is caused by low rainfall, which causes the river flows to drop. Over recent years, it has been typical for dry hot weather and increased evaporation to cause river levels to drop around the end of summer (into February). This is coincidentally the end of the holiday season.

Although it might seem that higher water use would cause scarcity of water, this isn’t the case with a river flow water supply. If the river is flowing above the pump levels, we keep pumping water to top up the water storages. Water restrictions would not make any difference, because even if everyone lowered their water use, we would still be able to keep the water storages full. The water we don't use flows downstream, and out to sea eventually.

Q: Why don’t you bring in water restrictions sooner?

A: We operate five water supplies across the region, four of which are dependent on river flows. Our pumps extract water from these rivers to water storages. During periods of extended dry weather, if river levels drop below the pumps, we are unable to pump water to replenish the storages. This means we are reliant on the capacity of the water storage, and we can't top it up.

However, while river flows are high enough to pump into our storages, we keep them topped up, at 100% capacity. There would be no point in introducing water restrictions, because we can keep the storages full using the river flows. 

It's a different situation when river levels drop and we can't pump into the storages. Then we only have the water in the storages until the next rainfall lifts river levels. That's when we need water restrictions and everyone to use less water.

Q: Would better planning / water management prevent the need for water restrictions?

A: Every day MidCoast Council is managing our water supply. Our employees monitor river flows, groundwater levels and water usage across the region, and check weather forecasts, long range weather information and rainfall patterns. The water storages and water treatment plants are operated for peak efficiency.

The MidCoast region has never run out of water and has an excellent history in provision of high quality potable water for our population.

A massive infrastructure injection (for example, building a much larger water storage) is not affordable or feasible for our population size at this point in time.  

Q: Do you consider future water security for our region?

A: We are working strategically on improving our water security. You can read the strategy “Our water, our future” on our Plans and Reports page (go to the drop-down item called 'Other strategic plans').

One step towards water security was the opening of the $34.6m Nabiac Aquifer Water Supply system in early 2019, which supplements the Manning scheme, drawing water form an inland dune aquifer. Read more here.

Q: How do I find out when water restrictions begin and end?

A: Water restrictions are always notified through local media - newspapers, radio and TV. Our website will also always notify prominently on our home page, and on this page. We also keep our Facebook followers notified. Other ways you will be notified include signage, posters and flyers, along with direct communication with businesses, schools and other water users and notification on your water account when restrictions are in force.

Q: How do I know what to do during water restrictions?

A: We produce a fact sheet for each level of restrictions which explains what is required. You can view these  above on this page. They are made publicly available at Council offices, libraries and other locations when restrictions are in force.

Q: Does Council and businesses have to reduce its water use during restrictions?

A: Yes. Council's parks and gardens employees have to comply with water restrictions along with local businesses, schools and other institutions with large water use. We work with businesses and other large consumers of water to put management plans in place during restrictions. Landholders with water extraction licences have 'cease to pump' requirements at low river levels - as does Council.

Some organisations may use treated recycled water, stored rain water (from tanks) or bore water. Outdoor use of this water is not subject to water restrictions.

Q: How do you monitor compliance? What can I do if someone else isn’t following water restrictions?

A: Council is empowered by legislation (Local Government Act) to issue fines for non-compliance with water restrictions. Generally, we find our residents are very compliant and cooperate with water restrictions and there is no need to issue fines.

If you spot a neighbour not complying with water restrictions, it's a good idea to check if they are using bore water or rainwater from a tank - these water sources are not subject to water restrictions.

If they are simply unaware of restrictions being in force, a friendly reminder may be all that's needed. If someone is deliberately ignoring the restrictions after being informed, or in extreme cases of wastage, please call us on 1300 133 455.

Q: Can we see the river flows and the water storage levels?

A: Water NSW has a public website which lists river flows across NSW. The Manning Scheme refers to the Killawarra readings, and the Stroud scheme to the Karuah readings. You can see them on the WaterNSW site. 

Our employees take other river level readings of the other schemes.

Water storage levels are not generally available, but may be communicated in our public messages to improve community understanding of any given situation.

Q: Do water restrictions affect our water bills? Will they be lower because of the introduction of water restrictions?

A: Your water rates include fixed amounts for water infrastructure and service, which includes not only the water supply system (water storages, water treatment plants, pumps, delivery pipes and mains), but also the sewerage system (pipes, mains and pumps that carry grey water and stormwater away from your property, sewage treatment plants). This amount does not change when water restrictions are in force.

You are also charged a fee for the water you use, so if you use less during the water restriction period, you will be charged a lesser amount for that part of your water account.

Q: Wasn't the Nabiac Inland Aquifer system supposed to 'drought-proof' the system?

A: No. The Nabiac Aquifer Water Supply became operational in early 2019 and provides between 6 million - 10 million litres per day to supplement the Manning scheme. In times of drought, the Aquifer's water level also drops, and the Scheme is subject to a cease-to-pump requirement, which would limit our ability to extract water. The Nabiac Aquifer scheme improves water security, making us less reliant on Manning River and providing diversification of risk as a second independent source of water.
More information on the Nabiac Aquifer system.

Q: Can town water be used for commercial purposes, for example can a primary producer use it to irrigate his crops? If yes does he need a permit to do so ?

A: There are some commercial users (including various industries) of town water supply throughout MidCoast's water supply areas. Commercial users are subject to special conditions, and are also required to adhere to water restrictions when they are in force. It is expensive for commercial users to use our water supply, so many find alternative water sources.
For irrigators, apart from on-farm water storages / dams, some have water licences issued from Water NSW to pump directly from rivers. Water NSW issues ‘cease to pump’ orders when river levels drop below certain levels (and MidCoast Council has to abide by those too).
There is no permit for an irrigator to use town water, however for new water connections, we would assess their estimated demand and they would pay the appropriate Water Developer Charges.

Q: Can we fill our new pool when water restrictions are in force?

A: Check out the fact sheets for the three water restrictions levels above, which outline when and how you can use outdoor water during water restriction periods. During Very High and Severe water restrictions, all outdoor water use is banned, so you can't fill or top up pools then. During Moderate water restrictions, it would be difficult to fill an empty pool complying with the time limits placed on outdoor water use. If you have an empty pool that you'd like to fill during water restrictions periods, you could buy water and have it delivered.

Q: Do water restrictions apply to spear or bore water on my property, or to water from rainwater tanks?

A: No. Water restrictions only apply to the town water supply. If you live in a suburban area (such as Tuncurry or Tea Gardens Hawks Nest) and you’re using bore or spear water to water, it’s good idea to put up a sign in your garden, so others are aware you’re not breaking water restrictions. It’s also a good idea to make sure you conserve water, even rainwater and bore water, during drought. Check out the tips on our summer water savers page, and consider limiting water to every second day, which is in line with moderate water restrictions anyway! 

Q: Why have I seen MidCoast staff allowing water to escape from hydrants and go down the drain during water restrictions?

A: This process is called “flushing” and it is an essential management tool used by water utilities whenever required. Delivering fresh, clean water that is a food grade product is a complex undertaking, and one we don’t often consider when we turn on a tap. On its path to your home from the water storage, occasionally our water quality detectors pick up that the chlorine levels in the water have dropped. This has serious implications for water hygiene. Alternatively, sometimes mains that carry the water to you break, and the water becomes contaminated, again this is an issue for water quality and hygiene.

The way we fix this is to repair pipes, then there is still contaminated water in the pipes, so we flush the dirty water out of the pipes and in the process draw chlorine through the pipework, to ensure your water will meet the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. We undertake this task as a requirement of our Drinking Water Management Plan.

During water restrictions, we make every possible effort to reduce the amount of water we need to flush, while ensuring your water quality meets the required hygiene standard. It's not possible to economically capture this water for reuse, because the cost of providing the special equipment and truck and transport of that water, along with the time it would add to these jobs, is prohibitive.