IF Bathurst Regional Council was surprised by the angry response to its introduction of Level 3 water restrictions last year, then there may be much more anger coming its way soon.
As the Ben Chifley Dam level remains below 50 per cent (and falling), councillors have been urged to start planning for the possibility that restrictions might need to be tightened further.
Ominously labelled "extreme", the next level of restrictions would include no watering of lawns; the restriction of watering gardens to just twice a week (between 6pm and 9pm on Wednesday and Sunday); only allowing watering from buckets or watering cans; a ban on cars being washed at home; and ban on filling or topping up pools, garden features and children's pools.
They are serious restrictions, the likes of which we have not seen before in Bathurst. And their introduction would cause an outcry across the community.
A lack of significant rainfall over the summer months and week-on-week declines of the Ben Chifley Dam water level have vindicated the decision to introduce water restrictions but the main criticism of council - that it did too little for too long on water restrictions - remains.
For years this council had the opportunity to introduce low-level water restrictions to prevent some of the flagrant waste we could see across the city but it did nothing.
For years this council held on to the flawed belief that it was better for Bathurst to be able to market itself as city with such a secure water supply that it had not needed water restrictions than to preserve our most precious resource.
Even as neighbouring cities went to high level water restrictions between 2005 and 2007, Bathurst residents remained free to water their lawns in the heat of the day and hose down their driveways.
All that created a belief that Bathurst would never have water restrictions and keen gardeners who spent many thousands of dollars on plants, trees, lawns and watering systems had no reason to believe their investment would ever be put at risk by council policy. Now they are paying a high price for council's inaction, and the price is only going to go up.
Low-level restrictions a decade ago could have stalled the need for high-level restrictions now, and every day of delay brings us a day closer to rain.
But Bathurst's beautiful gardens will be gone before the rain arrives to save them.