With Guyra expected to run out of water in August, the town will go onto level 3 water restrictions next week.
From Tuesday, locals will not be able to use hoses, sprinklers, or drip irrigation to water lawns, gardens, or hard surfaces, and must use buckets only to water vehicles and top up swimming pools.
Level 3 is triggered when Guyra Dam reaches 40 per cent (adjusted from 31 per cent); it was at 42 per cent this Tuesday.
Below average rainfall (22 per cent less for two years) and extremely dry catchments, Armidale Regional Council said, mean there is little prospect of respite in the short term.
Prolonged drought conditions have stretched the water supply, and there have been no flows from the catchment into Guyra Dam since February.
"We're on level 2 at the moment," mayor Simon Murray said, "and there's been no reduction in water consumption at all. At this consumption rate, Guyra will run out of water in mid- to late August, unless there's a significant inflow, or people change their water consumption habits."
Guyra residents consume 222 litres per capita per day - 30 per cent more than the NSW average (174 litres), and 15 per cent more than the national average (194 litres).
"Unfortunately, many people living in the Armidale region have a false sense of security about water storage in the area," a council spokesperson said.
"We have been extremely fortunate for many years, particularly in Armidale. Unlike many other regions in NSW, we have not seen water conservation embedded into people's daily habits, and promotion of water conservation has not been regular."
Residents can reduce their water consumption by taking shorter four-minute showers; installing rainwater tanks for non-potable water for toilets and washing; and checking for leaking taps and pipes. For more tips on saving water, visit www.armidaleregional.nsw.gov.au.
Council will begin water patrols in Guyra from Tuesday. Under the Local Government Act, individuals can be charged $220 and corporations $2200 for breaching water restrictions.
Some people are already near breaking point, the Argus has heard. Many farmers have started selling their stock; nearly 3000 more sheep and lambs were sold at last week's stock than the previous ones, while one local said she had never seen so many cattle go through the yards.
"For some farmers," Cr Murray said, "it's becoming dire straits, as dams dry up. They're heading into winter, and there's no real pasture growth occurring."
Farmers are facing the grim prospect of a winter of potential full feeding again, which is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful.
People who live in town and do not have much interaction with land-based people will feel the restrictions as conditions get tighter, Cr Murray said. Some locals have already stopped washing their clothes at home, and are using laundromats instead.
The only potential saving grace, Cr Murray believes, is the Malpas Dam pipeline, designed to secure the water supply in drought conditions. Construction is ahead of time; the pipeline is due to finish in late September, but council are looking to fast-track its completion to late July or early August. Even so, water restrictions will continue.
"It could be the one thing that will get Guyra to survive if this drought continues," Cr Murray said. "Otherwise, it will be a matter of having to ship in water by trucks."
Guyra residents, Cr Murray said, must plan for the future. If people cut back now, they will extend the time before water runs out. If they're really prudent in their water consumption, they could extend the storage to the end of October, by which time the Malpas Dam pipeline will be up and running.
"All we've got at the moment is trying to get people to reduce their consumption."
Guyra last faced water restrictions of this level during the 2014 drought.
Council has also worked closely with the Costa tomato farm to reduce their water consumption, Cr Murray said.
The Elm Street glasshouse uses recycled water and captured rainwater, and, in times of lower rainfall, the glasshouse uses two bores to supply water, rather than taking from the main supply.
While Costa use mains supply water for growing tomatoes, drinking water, toilets, and showers, the company upgraded their system last year to reduce use of fresh mains water, save up to 22.5 megalitres of drain water a year, and recycle 85 per cent of their drain water.
The glasshouse on the New England Highway has a closed water cycle, using recycled water, and does not require water from outside the site.