Press conference by the Macquarie River in Dubbo with NSW Deputy Premiere John Barilaro and Minister for Water Melinda Pavey announcing an $87 million water funding to help drought stricken communities in regional New South Wales. Picture: Dylan Robinson
Press conference by the Macquarie River in Dubbo with NSW Deputy Premiere John Barilaro and Minister for Water Melinda Pavey announcing an $87 million water funding to help drought stricken communities in regional New South Wales. Picture: Dylan Robinson

$87m pledged for drought relief in regional NSW

Drought-stricken communities across regional NSW will get a leg-up with the State Government to provide an extra $87 million to fund 30 urgent water infrastructure projects to stop towns from running dry.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro - who made the announcement in the inland town of Dubbo, which is on level four water restrictions - also revealed he has "no issue" with temporarily tipping the state budget into deficit to ensure residents survive the drought.

John Barilaro said he has no issue putting the budget into deficit to help drought affected areas. Picture: Dylan Robinson
John Barilaro said he has no issue putting the budget into deficit to help drought affected areas. Picture: Dylan Robinson

"[The drought's] hit the budget, there's no doubt about it," said Mr Barilaro, also the Minister for Regional NSW.

"Even if we've got to tip into deficit to shore up rural and regional NSW, I have no issue with that.

"In my mind money is cheap at the moment and you're not going to get it cheaper than now. A deficit or debt doesn't bother me, but I'm only part of the government."

Mr Barilaro would not be drawn on whether the idea would get support from Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, who will release his half-year budget review in mid-December.

But Mr Barilaro said he was confident the government could find efficiencies, adding: "If it means deferral of a program or an investment in the city for a year or two while we deal with drought, so be it".

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Picture: AAP/Joel Carrett

When asked whether he would be willing to run the budget into deficit, treasurer Dominic Perrottet said surpluses were important in helping the state deal with unexpected economic shocks.

He said he believed the government can offer the support drought-affected communities need "while maintaining the strong financial management people expect".

"Our strong financial management is why so far we have been able to provide more than $1.8 billion to support famers and our regional communities who have been hit by the drought," Mr Perrottet said.

"In a challenging fiscal environment where we have written down billions in stamp duty since 2017 we have been able to offer significant assistance for drought-affected areas."

The funding for 30 emergency water infrastructure projects includes new money for bores and pipelines, stormwater harvesting schemes, water treatment plants, water storage remediation works and groundwater exploration projects, as well as $15 million for "water carting" to small towns.

John Barilaro, Minister for Water Melinda Pavey, Member for Dubbo Dugland Saunders and Upper House Nationals MP Sam Farraway. Picture: Dylan Robinson
John Barilaro, Minister for Water Melinda Pavey, Member for Dubbo Dugland Saunders and Upper House Nationals MP Sam Farraway. Picture: Dylan Robinson

It takes the state government's total investment in emergency water infrastructure since the March election to over $220 million.

One of the key projects being considered is a pipeline to replace the 67-kilometre long Albert Priest Channel between Nyngan and Cobar in the Central West, with $22 million earmarked for "detailed planning" and assessments.

This will stop precious water from being lost to seepage from the open channel and improve supplies in Cobar.

Another $5 million will go towards exploring pipelines through the Mid-Macquarie to help droughtproof communities such as Dubbo and Narromine.

Meanwhile, the Central Tablelands city of Bathurst will receive $20 million to help with water saving projects while Orange, in the Central West, will get a $10 million boost. Both cities are on extreme level 4-5 water restrictions.

The State Government has invested over $220 million in emergency water infrastructure since the election. Picture: Britta Campion/The Australian
The State Government has invested over $220 million in emergency water infrastructure since the election. Picture: Britta Campion/The Australian

Water Minister Melinda Pavey said Orange had "led the way" regarding water savings measures and praised the community for getting down to 133-litres a day per person.

The average water consumption per person a day in Sydney is about 200-litres.

Water infrastructure projects will also be progressively rolled out across the Far West, Northern NSW, Central and North West, and the Mid and North Coast.

It comes as the Queensland government announced it was looking at building a 90-kilometre pipeline from Wivenhoe Dam in the state's south east to Warwick's Leslie Dam, in the Southern Downs.

Warwick is bracing to run out of water within 14-months and a pipeline is needed to top up the town's drinking water supply.

The state cabinet on Monday sat in the northwestern town of Bourke for the first time as part of a three-day tour aimed at giving city-based ministers a better understanding of regional issues such as drought and water security.

Mr Barilaro acknowledged the government needed to do more about climate change in the future but said a "pragmatic" approach was needed in the first instance to deal with the urgent issue of water security.