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Water restrictions - your questions answered

Rosendahl dam, Port Macquarie

Water restrictions were lifted on 17 April 2020, and we are encouraging residents to practice water conservation measures to reduce our daily demand on our water supply. 

We understand that you'll have questions about water restrictions and what this means for you. Here we share some common questions and answers to assist you in understanding why we have water restrictions, how our water supply works, our current and future water management plans.


We adopted the 2014 Uniform Regional Water Restrictions and revised water restriction trigger levels, at the Ordinary Council Meeting on 20 July 2016. The introduction of water restriction levels is based on a range of factors including:

  • available flow in the Hastings River at Koree Island,
  • daily demands of the customers,
  • combined storage levels (as a percentage of full supply capacity) in Council’s Port Macquarie and Cowarra off-creek storage dams, and
  • long term weather forecasts.

Once river levels are sufficient for pumping, water quality targets for nutrients and turbidity in the river water must be met before pumping to the dam can commence. In times of low water availability, water restrictions can reduce water demands and conserve the amount of water currently in storage. Community support to conserve our scarce water resources is critical.



Water restrictions apply to everyone who uses the water supply.

This includes:

  • all residents,
  • visitors,
  • community groups,
  • commercial businesses,
  • industries, and
  • public services, including Council.

Restrictions for residents and visitors are different to commercial enterprises.

Clearly defined water restrictions are outlined for businesses that take into account their need for water to continue their operations.

Emergency Services, including fire brigades, SES, police and ambulance operations are exempt from water restrictions at all levels.

Some businesses are reliant on water usage to make a living or provide public health benefits to the community e.g. landscape gardeners, cleaners and concreters. These are 'commercial water users'.

Approximately 85% of the water consumption in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area is consumed by residential users. So restricting commercial usage alone will not achieve the substantial water usage savings that can be achieved by restricting residential usage.

Council regularly works with businesses to identify how they can implement a long-term approach to water use and water saving. 



Yes. Bore water is not subject to Council water restrictions.

You are required to apply for and obtain a licence from Water NSW to use bore water.

You can apply for a "Bore Water in Use" sign from Council to display on your property during water restrictions. 

Standalone tanks with rainwater (only) that are not connected potable water are able to be used during water restrictions.

Rainwater tanks that are topped-up from the town water supply (drinking water) or delivered by a commercial water carter is required to comply to water restrictions. 

Yes. Reusing domestic greywater on your garden and pot-plants can save many litres of drinking water each day.

To minimise the risk of illness and/or pollution, the following advice is recommended for the safe reuse of greywater:

  • Due to health risks greywater must be used directly and not stored or used to water edible plants.
  • Care must be taken when re-using greywater to ensure the watering location is away from, and does not impact upon, watercourses, neighbouring properties and environmentally sensitive areas
  • Greywater cannot be disposed of into stormwater systems
  • Water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers is not recommended for greywater re-use as it often contains grease and food particles and may have high pH levels.
  • Manual bucketing of small quantities (i.e. shower or sink) can be used on garden or grass.

‘Greywater’ is waste water from washing machines, laundry tubs, showers, hand basins and baths, but does not include wastewater from a kitchen, toilet, urinal or bidet.

The installation of greywater diversion devices and greywater treatment systems can only be done if certain conditions are met and installed by a licensed plumber. For advice on system and approval requirements contact Council’s Environmental Health Officers on (02) 6581 8111.



No. At this stage, recycled water is only available to some commercial businesses in the Port Macquarie CBD and Industrial area.

Residences at Thrumster and new development areas of Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills are part of the Council’s Recycled Water Scheme and have been built with a dual plumbing system, allowing for use of recycled water once it becomes available.

The Recycled Water Plant is operational and producing recycled water, however Council is still building the pipeline that is required to transfer recycled water to residents. Until the recycled water scheme is operational, drinking water is supplied through the recycled water (lilac) pipes to residential areas and as such, usage is subject to current restrictions.

We all have a role to play in conserving our water supply.

You can check for leaks on all of your taps - indoors and outdoors, use the last of the washing up water to rinse your recyclables, and more.

It's good to have a conversation with the whole family to ensure everyone understands the importance of saving this precious resource. By encouraging kids to use the half flush in the toilet or to turn the tap off while they clean their teeth will help to ensure early water saving habits.

There's many water savings tips and tricks available for you to implement in your home.

Council can take legal action against a person or corporation found breaching water restrictions, under the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act & Regulations.

Customers who fail to comply can have their water supply restricted, or face “On-The-Spot” fines and/or prosecution in the Local Court.

The penalties include: “On-The-Spot” fines of $220, and up to $2,200 fines, if prosecuted through the Local Court. In addition, the same penalties also apply for water theft and unauthorised access of water from Council’s mains and hydrants. 

Council Rangers investigate reported breaches of water restrictions. We continue to rely on the public’s support and assistance in monitoring water restrictions and reporting any suspected breaches using our Report an Issue form.

If you see someone wasting water or breaching water restrictions, please report these breaches or misuse of water via our Report an Issue online form, or by email to council@pmhc.nsw.gov.au. Anonymous calls will not followed up.



No. Only NSW Fire and Rescue and Rural Fire Brigade members who are  actively engaged in firefighting are permitted to access fire hydrants.

Should you observe anyone accessing or drawing water from a fire hydrant, please contact Council immediately on (02) 6581 8111 between 8:00am to 5:00pm, or after hours on (02) 6583 2225.

We review our dam storage levels regularly.

We will ease water restrictions when:

  • the total combined storage in the Port Macquarie and Cowarra Dams has recovered to above the relevant trigger level, and
  • the flow in the Hastings River at the Koree Island extraction point allows for consistent pumping, and
  • climatic conditions are favourable.

Council’s combined storage must exceed 70% before all water restrictions can be lifted.

There must be sufficient scope allowed for judgements to be made in any lifting/easing of restrictions.

Our emergency water supply plans rely on everyone adhering to water restrictions.

There is a risk our water will become even more scarce if we cannot limit water use.


Yes. Cowarra Dam is the back-up water supply when we are unable to pump from the Hastings River.

The capacity in Cowarra Dam is used to top up the Port Macquarie Dam and delay the need to implement restrictions.


Our water supply is extracted from the Hastings River at an extraction point at Koree Island, west of Wauchope.

Water is pumped to the Port Macquarie and Cowarra Dams when flow and water quality readings for nutrients and turbidity are satisfactory.

Drinking water for the Port Macquarie- Hastings area is stored in the operational Port Macquarie Dam - 2,500ML (off Ocean Drive in Port Macquarie) and in the back up supply at Cowarra Dam - 10,000ML (King Creek area, east of Wauchope). 

As the designated water utility for the Port Macquarie-Hastings area, Council is tasked with supplying water of adequate volume for the community to a standard which meets or exceeds the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011.


Environmental river flows, as defined by Government agencies, are the minimum river flows, which must be preserved to maintain river health, for downstream river users and the aquatic environment. These minimum river flows are based on statistics derived from actual stream flow data. This includes adequate river levels and flows to maintain the following:

  • Fish passage downstream of the pumping station,
  • Water depth over aquatic plants and animals, and
  • Salinity and other water quality parameters at acceptable limits.

Our water supply pumping activities from the Hastings River to fill the Port Macquarie and Cowarra Off-Creek Storage Dams are regulated to preserve minimum environmental river flows.

During times of drought when periods of low river flows can occur, our off-creek storage dams are used to meet water supply needs, until river flows return to normal.

Extended periods of drought mean we need to implement staged water restrictions to reduce non-essential water usage and preserve the storage capacity of the dams. 

After rain events, the amount of sediment and 'turbidity' in the river can create nutrient-rich ‘dirty‘ water, which, if sent to our dams, could cause algae growth and ultimately result in the deterioration of our water quality (regarding taste and odour) to a point where we could not use the dams to supply water to the community.

It would require a significant capital investment for Council to construct water treatment facilities to remove sediments, turbidity and nutrients from ‘dirty‘ river water.

We are reviewing and investigating a range of options as part of our long-term planning and the local water supply scheme. 

We understand the importance of implementing water conservation measures to help maintain our water storage levels, lessen the impact on our drinking water supplies, and practice sustainable use of our water for the long term benefit for our community.

There are many things that Council already does as part of our day-to-day operations that support sustainable water use, in addition, we've also introduced new measures in light of recent water restrictions updates.

We are constantly reviewing our future water supply needs and available resources.

A detailed 30-year capital works program has been developed to meet our anticipated water supply needs. All of these investigations and planning activities involve the foundations of both the affordable and sustainable development of our natural resources.

A number of the options currently being investigated include:

  • Upgrade of our water treatment facilities.
  • Stormwater and Recycled Water reuse schemes in urban areas.
  • Water sensitive and efficient urban design.
  • Additional off-creek dam storage capacity.

In the meantime, we will actively continue our public education and water conservation campaigns, as we all need to reconsider how we use water every day and it becomes a natural part of our daily life.

In addition to our Development Control Plans, the NSW BASIX is in place to ensure that the principles of both water and energy efficiency are incorporated into all future residential developments. This includes the provision of water tanks and water efficient appliances in all new houses.



We're monitoring and managing our water supply every day.

Our teams monitor river flows, groundwater levels and water usage across the region, and check weather forecasts, long range weather information and rainfall patterns. Our water storage dams and water treatment plants are operated for peak efficiency.

The Port Macquarie-Hastings region has never run out of water and has an excellent history in providing high quality drinking water for our population.

A massive infrastructure injection (for example, building a much larger water storage facility) is not currently an affordable or feasible option for our population size at this point in time. However, we continue to plan for, and investigate, short and long term strategic projects to provide for our future water security.


Water supply is considered as part of our Integrated Water Cycle Management Strategy to ensure the area has a sufficient water supply capacity to provide for our growing population.

This Strategy is renewed every 8 years and we have engaged the State Government's Public Works Advisory to review and update this strategy, outlining our long-term plans for water and sewer schemes and strategic stormwater management.

As our region's population increases, the secure yield of our water supply system must also increase. Secure yield is defined as the highest annual water demand that can be supplied from our water supply system while meeting specific design rules.

Water security is achieved when the secure yield of a water supply is at least equal to the unrestricted dry year annual demand.

Our current water supply system is appropriate for our growing population as determined by the NSW Office of Water under the NSW Guidelines on Assuring Future Urban Water Security.


We're currently looking at a range of options for our water supply.

We are working with the State Government to investigate desalination plants and are specifically considering mobile desalination plants for more immediate use. We've committed to undertaking a feasibility project for a reverse osmosis desalination plant. And, we remain committed to investigating a multiple options for our short and long term water supply needs.

The further development of alternate water schemes in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area will assist using reducing current demands for drinking water supplies (approximately 10% reduction and possibly more).


No. Visitors and tourists do not impact our water supply. 

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.

When the river is flowing above the pump levels, we keep pumping water to top up our water storage dams.

Water restrictions are in place when our water storage levels are low and are based on a range of factors including pre-determined trigger levels, short and long-range weather and rain forecasts, and water quality.

Tourists do not factor into any equation when it comes to water restrictions.

Water restrictions may have a positive impact on your water bill if you reduce your water use, as this will mean you are using less water. So that means you'll be charged less for that component of your water account.

Your water rates also 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 greywater and stormwater away from your property, sewage treatment plants). This amount does not change when water restrictions are in force.

We release water from hydrants when required and it's an essential management tool used by water utilities. The process is called “flushing”.

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 report that 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 flush the dirty water to minimise contamination and in the process draw chlorine through the pipework. This is to ensure our water meets 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.


Yes. High pressure hoses with a cut off trigger or control nozzle are permitted during your allotted time. 

This page was last updated on: 16 October 2020