First published in The Sunday Telegraph, on 13/10/19

People in the bush know how precious water is. They’ve been counting every drop for generations – having been in drought more times than not over the past 20 years.

When water dries up in regional NSW it not only affects the paddocks, but the towns. Right across our sunburnt state – from Broken Hill to Bega – regional NSW knows water is their most valuable resource.

People in the bush are always the first to feel the effects of the drought, they have learnt to adapt and be more resilient in times of hardship.

For generations we have been living off tanks, bores, stormwater and recycled water. Finding new ways of capturing, storing and stretching the water supply independent of rainfall. 

These measures have been ingrained in the country with the knowledge that the most expensive drop of water is the one we don’t have.

Across the state recycled wastewater is commonly used for crop irrigation, fire fighting, watering parks and ovals, and for industrial use, taking pressure of their local water supply. 

It’s no surprise that Tenterfield is leading the charge in NSW to look at using recycled water for direct drinking water.

Tenterfield have a reputation for being pioneers – as the birthplace of our Nation where Sir Henry Parkes gave his Federation Speech in 1889, which led to the Federation of all Australian States in 1901.

During the recent bushfires, Tenterfield used around 600,000 litres a day of recycled water to help combat the fires.

Regional NSW is leading the charge for water security.

Other towns are turning to desalination and stormwater to reduce their reliance on rainfall. In Orange they have a stormwater harvesting scheme that can bolster the city’s water supply by up to 25% of the yearly water needs, even with a small amount of rain.

We are investing $10 million to Walgett and Bourke for a reverse osmosis plant to improve the drinkability of emergency bore water.

Parkes’ Recycled Water Rising Main, a scheme to provide high-quality recycled water to irrigate public parks and sporting fields around town.

As our population grows this type of infrastructure is essential in ensuring our communities have long-term water security for the future.

In Sydney, the population is expected to increase to eight million people by 2056. 

Today, every 10 litres of water that currently goes into a Sydney home, eight litres leave as wastewater. 

While necessity is driving great progress in the bush, Sydney is making progress in diversify its water sources. 

The Desalination Plant is fully operational and producing 250 million litres per day – 15 percent of Sydney’s current drinking water supply and we are exploring ways of expanding the plant’s capacity to make us even more drought resilient.

Recycled water is also in used across greater Sydney. 

In 2018-19, 44 billion litres of recycled water was supplied to residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural use, as well as enhancing river water quality. 

Over the next 25 years, we want to double water recycling to more than 80 gigalitres per year.

This is a fantastic step forward. However, to become truly drought resilient, water sources that are independent of rainfall – particularly recycled water – must represent a significantly larger proportion of greater Sydney’s future portfolio.

We need to make wastewater a renewable resource, instead of a waste product.  Combined with stormwater it can keep Sydney thriving during future droughts.

If we are practical enough to follow the lead of Tenterfield, recycled water can even secure our drinking water supply.  This practice is commonplace in many of the world’s great cities like London and Los Angeles, and supported by Australia’s leading water academics.

Diversifying our portfolio of water sources is going to become our state’s new reality.

This isn’t the first drought we have faced and we know it won’t be our last. If we change how we source, use and re-use our most precious resource – we can make NSW more resilient to the effects of drought for future generations.