FAQ - Water Restrictions

Please refer to our frequently asked questions for more information about how our water restrictions system works. If you have a question that is not answered here, you can email [email protected].

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

A: 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 water storages full, we need to introduce water restrictions.

We use a five-step system to manage water restrictions across the region. The system consists of five levels – Moderate (Level 1), High (Level 2), Very High (Level 3), Severe (Level 4) and Extreme (Level 5). Each level is triggered when the flows in our supply rivers fall below certain volumes and the levels in our water storages drop to certain points. Each water restriction level has a daily usage target that we are aiming to reduce our total water use by.

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

Q: When do you decide to wind back restrictions?

A: We monitor river flows as well as rain forecasts for the weeks and months ahead, and if we can pump from our supply rivers to refill our water storages, we’re confident we can wind back water restrictions.

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

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

A: No. Low water supply occurs when river flows drop due to low rainfall. Often dry, hot weather and increased evaporation cause river levels to drop around the end of summer. This is coincidentally the end of the holiday season.

While it may seem that higher water use could bring on water restrictions, it isn’t the case with water supply systems that rely on river flows. If our rivers are flowing above the pump levels, we keep pumping from them to keep our water storages full. There would be little benefit in introducing water restrictions while we can do this, as the water we didn’t use would continue to flow downstream and out to sea.

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

A: As long as our supply rivers are flowing enough for us to continue pumping from them, we keep our water storages full. There would be little benefit in introducing water restrictions while we can do this, as the water we didn’t use would continue to flow downstream and out to sea.

It's a different situation when the levels in our supply rivers drop and we can no longer pump from them. Then we only have the water in our storages until the next rainfall lifts river levels. That's when we need to introduce water restrictions and for everyone to use less water.

We encourage year-round sustainable water use through our permanent water conservation measures, which ask people to adopt the following behaviours:

  • Don’t spray in the middle of the day – Water your garden before 9am or after 4pm
  • Use a trigger nozzle, watering can or bucket – Only use the water you need
  • Wash your car or boat on the grass – Keep chemicals out of our waterways
  • Don’t hose down hard surfaces – Use a broom or a bucket and mop 

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

A: Every day we’re 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. Our water storages and water treatment plants are operated for peak efficiency.

The MidCoast has never run out of water and we have an excellent history of providing high-quality drinking water for our population.

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

A: In August 2023, our latest long-term water strategy Our Water Our Future 2050 was adopted. This strategy outlines our plans for water and sewer services in the MidCoast over the next 30 years, including building new storage dams to increase water security in the region. You can read Our Water Our Future 2050 here.

We also opened the Nabiac aquifer water supply system in 2019, which supplements our Manning water supply system by drawing water from an inland dune aquifer. This system is currently undergoing an upgrade to increase the amount of water it can supply. Read more here.


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

A: We keep the community updated about water restrictions through a variety of media and communication channels, including newspapers, television, radio, social media and our newsletters. When water restrictions are in place, we also display the information on our homepage and our Water Restrictions page. We also notify people using signage, posters and flyers, and via direct communication with businesses, schools and other water users. 

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

A: Residents can familiarise themselves with what they can and can’t do during water restrictions via our Residential water restrictions page. Businesses can find out what rules apply to them on our Business water restrictions page.

Q: Do Council and businesses have to reduce their water use during water restrictions?

A: Yes. Council's parks and gardens staff have to comply with water restrictions along with local businesses, schools and other institutions that use a lot of water. We work with businesses and other large users 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 rainwater (from tanks) or bore water. 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: Under the Local Government Act, we are empowered to issue fines for non-compliance with water restrictions. Generally, we find our residents cooperate with water restrictions and there is no need to issue fines.

If you suspect a neighbour isn’t 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’re simply unaware that restrictions are in force, a friendly reminder may be all that's needed.

If someone is deliberately ignoring 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 website which lists river flows across NSW. The Manning system refers to the Killawarra readings, the Stroud system refers to the Karuah readings and the Gloucester system refers to the Barrington Rocky Crossing readings. You can view them under Real Time Data – Rivers and Streams.

Our employees take river level readings from our other supply rivers.

Water storage levels are not generally available but may be included in our public messages to help the community understand the current 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 charges for water and sewer services. These charges cover the cost of infrastructure and treatment (water storages, water and sewer treatment plants, pumps and pipes). 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 water restrictions, you will be charged a lesser amount for that part of your water account.

Q: Wasn't the Nabiac aquifer water supply system supposed to 'drought-proof' the system?

A: No. The Nabiac aquifer water supply system became operational in early 2019 and can provide between 6 million - 10 million litres per day to supplement the Manning water supply system. It is currently being upgraded to supply more water. However, in times of drought, the aquifer's water level drops and the system is subject to a cease-to-pump requirement, which limits our ability to extract water.

The Nabiac system improves water security by diversifying our water supply and making us less reliant on the Manning River.

Q: Can town water be used for commercial purposes? For example, can a primary producer use it to irrigate their crops? If so, do they need a permit?

A: There are a number of commercial users of our water supply throughout the MidCoast. 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.

Irrigators who pump directly from our rivers have water licences issued by Water NSW. Water NSW issues ‘cease to pump’ orders in accordance with Water Sharing Plans when river levels drop below certain levels (which we have to abide by too, although town water supplies are prioritised).

There is no permit for an irrigator to use town water. However, for new water connections, we would assess their estimated demand and charge them appropriate Water Developer Charges.

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

A: Please refer to our Residential water restrictions to find out what you can and can’t do when water restrictions are in force. This includes information about pools.


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 outside, it’s a 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. 

Q: Why have I seen your 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. 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, occasionally our water quality detectors pick up that the chlorine levels in the water have dropped. This has serious implications for water hygiene. In other instances, sometimes the mains that carry the water to you break and the water becomes contaminated. This can also cause water quality and hygiene issues.

The way we deal with this is by flushing the dirty water out of the pipes and drawing 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 still ensuring your water quality meets the required hygiene standard. It's not economical to capture the water we flush for reuse, because the cost of providing the special equipment and transporting the water, along with the time it would take, is prohibitive.