Drought: Armidale Regional Council to introduce water access card for rural residents

Armidale Regional Council CEO Susan Law.
Armidale Regional Council CEO Susan Law.

Armidale Regional Council plan to introduce a card for rural residents not on the town water supply to access water from the Armidale Arboretum and McKie Parkway (Guyra) filling stations.

"This is about getting water to people as quickly and easily as possible," council CEO Susan Law said.

"Unfortunately, the standpipe at the Arboretum was subject to some misuse. We want to make sure that the people who need it - those who live on rural properties within our LGA - are the ones who get it."

Card recipients would have to verify they met these criteria, and pay a one-off $100 administration fee for the card, and a pre-paid water charge of $3.90 for each kilolitre of water. Council will determine monthly limits on the volume of water that can be purchased per card.

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The $100 - approximately half what town-dwellers pay each year as a supply charge - would help to cover the infrastructure, maintenance, and administration of the filling stations.

The administration fee, Ms Law said, is somewhat less than these costs, but council felt this was a reasonable charge.

Cr Dorothy Robinson suggested this cost may be too high; she would like the charge reduced to $10, and the additional costs of the system covered by a small increase in the price of water.

"Rural residents are already suffering considerable pain from the devastating drought, resultant loss of income, and bushfires," Cr Robinson said. "As their rainwater tanks run dry, they've had to buy tanks to transport water from the filling station, and will also have to pre-pay for all water they use.

"It seems like adding insult to injury to slug them with yet another $100 for an access card. Charging $5 per kilolitre of water would raise the same amount of money over a year, if the average rural household uses seven kilolitres of town water a month."

Ms Law argued the proposal would not be feasible. To increase the water charge per litre, she said, council would have to review its water charges, and put them on public exhibition.

"By that time," Ms Law said, "we hope that the crisis might be over. It also wouldn't meet the needs of people who need water right now."

Council might financially assist people struggling to buy water, Ms Law said.

"We would talk to each person as they came in, so we would consider it on a case-by-case basis."

The draft of the water access card administration fee is on exhibition at the Council's website until Friday, November 22. If there are no responses or submissions, council will implement the cards immediately, Ms Law said.