The sweet pitter patter of gentle rain has been a relief to many as the creeks have started flowing again and tanks have filled following the early start to dry weather.
Prior to the rain there were many people who had already had to start buying in water as their tanks and alternative water sources ran dry.
Local water carrier Jade Le Compte who runs Water Please near Lennox Head told The Echo that they did a record water delivery September. There was a similar impact on Murwillumbah water carrier Jade Tanner Water Supplies who said they were delivering water from 5am to midnight five days a week to keep up with demand before the rain.
Book ahead to fill tanks
‘There was a lot of demand up until the recent rains,’ said another water carrier from the Byron Shire, who has been in the business for around 20 years.
‘We had about three weeks in advance bookings. That’s working on weekends as well. The population has grown so much which has increased demand. If people totally run out of water it’s not a good thing. My advice is don’t. We advise people to re-book so that they don’t run out of water, particularly when it gets dry for a long period and the wait times get longer.’
People who have been on their own water supply for a reasonable amount of time tend to have a good gauge on the water they use and when to implement water saving strategies. However, with the increased population of people not used to being on their own water supply they can get caught out.
One local water carrier said that as people moved here during the pandemic they often didn’t realise that they were on tank water.
‘They called a plumber who then told them they were on tank water and handed them my number.’
With a tank of 12,000–13,000 litres of water ranging from $240 to $300, carriers said some people are quite cautious of water use, but others are happy to just buy in water all year round.
‘They don’t change their lifestyle. They want their gardens green and are happy to buy in water for their lifestyle choice,’ explained one carrier.
‘Some people are just prepared to pay for it. Studies show that some areas, where people are more affluent, they just use more water,’ said Elizabeth Seidl, Manager Water and Wastewater for Tweed Shire Council (TSC).
‘Between 2018 and 2020 supply to holiday rentals was huge,’ said one of the water carriers. ‘People were coming here on holiday and they were not holding back on water use.’
Restrictions apply to bought water
However, both Rous County Council (who manage water across the Byron, Lismore, Ballina and Richmond Shires) and TSC (who manage their shires water supply) are both clear that when water restrictions come in they apply to those who have bought in water.
‘We don’t control the carter,’ explained Elizabeth Seidl, Manager Water and Wastewater for TSC. ‘Restrictions apply on the end use of that water. As soon as someone has their tanks filled up with town water they have the same restrictions as in town.’
However, if a carter is taking water from TSC reservoirs and carting it out of the shire the water price doubles. Once water restrictions are in place water carters are not allowed to supply TSC water to other shires.
When there is an abundance of water no restrictions apply to either domestic or commercial use of bought water; however, once restrictions come into play this can change.
‘There are two types of water carters: those which provide domestic drinking water (who need to comply with the Public Health Act), and those who provide water for construction,’ said a Rous County Council spokesperson.
‘Construction water carters can use alternative untreated water sources where these are available. During a drought and as the dam level declines, water used for construction and other non-residential uses is restricted in accordance with our Drought Management Plan. Under emergency scenarios, the use of water for construction and other non-residential purposes is prohibited.’
Similar restrictions are applied by TSC in regards to the use of potable water when water restrictions are in place.
‘We have to balance business and water restrictions,’ said Ms Seidl.
‘At the earlier level of water restrictions, businesses can still buy in water for construction, dog groomers, car detailing, pressure cleaning, etc. But at level 4 restrictions we don’t allow water to be used for any of those activities. That includes no filling of new pools, no new driveways being built, etc. Though you can apply for exemptions if absolutely necessary.’
Ms Seidl said that the TSC had explored alternative water supplies such as recycled water for things like dust dampening, etc. but ‘we’ve stumbled on approvals from state government on using recycled, treated sewage water. There’s strict guidelines about reuse of effluent and it is not always that practical to use even in construction and building work.’
The clear message is when the weather starts to get dry make sure you know where you can get your water and make sure you book in early enough so you don’t run out before the water carrier can get to you.
‘In August this year we stopped taking new customers as a business,’ explained one carrier.
‘We’ve got over 1,000 people on our books and if I couldn’t recognise the phone number I let it go to message bank.’