ORANGE is expected to go into level 5A water restrictions either later this year or early next year, with level six also looming, according to public forums held this week.
Orange City Council hosted two forums about 50 people attended each on Monday and Thursday.
Strategic water manager Wayne Beatty said the trigger point for 5A was 25 per cent.
"We're thinking towards the end of the year or in the new year, that would be when we hit the 25 per cent," he said.
Mr Beatty said contractors used acoustic equipment to identify leaks - leaks in public locations were repaired, while property owners were notified of private leaks.
Meanwhile, he said the council was dealing directly with hotels, schools, hospitals and aged care facilities on minimising water usage, while the council still offered showerhead exchange and tank rebates.
In my view, the Orange to Macquarie pipeline has been operating with one arm tied behind its back.Communications officer Allan Reeder
Residents heard $90 million was spent on water infrastructure since the previous drought.
Communications officer Allan Reeder said the Macquarie River pipeline and another from Cowra gave "serious signs of hope" for getting through the crisis.
"In my view, the Orange to Macquarie pipeline has been operating with one arm tied behind its back," he said.
He said 514 megalitres since the pipeline was brought online two years ago was "nowhere near enough" and bringing down the trigger point from 108 to 38 megalitres' flow through the river would bring Orange's Day Zero, where water runs out, from December 2020 assuming no inflows, to preventing Orange from reaching level six water restrictions.
Currently, level six is projected in April.
"Level six is the place where industry starts to really suffer," Mr Reeder said.
"If we got back to 38, if the state government let us do that for a short period until the drought ended, until we reached 50 per cent in the dam, lots of ifs to protect the environment, we mightn't get to level six."
He said pumping would still be limited to 12 megalitres a day, but the number of days the council was allowed to pump would grow.
Likewise, he said taking 3.5 megalitres a day from Cowra, via Wyangala Dam, would avoid level six.
Wyangala Dam is currently at 22 per cent capacity, which Mr Reeder said was still 14 times more than Suma Park Dam when full.
Mr Beatty said the pipeline project only required six months' construction to build a series of pump stations, but the business case and approvals needed to be completed first.
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