As another big dry looms, water security in western NSW faces another major challenge - a shortage of skilled workers.
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According to the NSW Government, over the next four years there is expected to be a deficit of 1,476 qualified water technicians across the state. And the situation is particularly dire in western NSW.
"We desperately need to upskill more people in water operations," Doug Moorby, chair of the Orana Water Utilities Alliance in Western NSW, said.
"Everyone is always scratching for skilled staff, there are currently vacancies across the board that we are struggling to fill which is why we need more training."
Mr Moorby said councils in the Orana region already support each other by providing operators when there are shortages, but there's simply not enough manpower to go around.
"This month we had an operator from Narromine support Cobar and a technician from Brewarrina pitch in to help Walgett," he said.
"But at the end of the day, this is not enough to fill the gaps."
A lack of skilled workers to man Walgett's water treatment plant was also one of the reasons cited for the town's reliance on high-salinity bore water for years until it switched back to river water in May, 2022.
In an effort to tackle the shortage, water minister Rose Jackson has announced the NSW government will be funding 900 fee-free vocational training placements across the state.
"The water skills shortage is an ongoing challenge for remote areas and even larger regional areas like Dubbo," she said.
"It doesn't matter what corner of the state you live in, we want to make sure there are enough skilled technicians available on the ground to fill vacant spots and help improve water quality and security in NSW."
Ms Jackson said water operations staff are the "unsung heroes" of their communities, working in the background so residents and businesses have continuous access to safe, clean drinking water and reliable wastewater services.
"During the 2022 floods, there were regional water operators in NSW who slept at water and sewage treatment plants, away from their families, to support residents and businesses," she said.
"[That] is an extraordinary example of community service."
The fee-free placements will cover a range of programs including Certificate III traineeships, Certificate IV placements, school-based traineeships and trade pathways for experienced workers.
"Fee-free placements remove the financial barriers for people to access the training they need to do their jobs," minister for skill Steve Whan said.
"The program is designed to boost opportunities for regional NSW school leavers, Aboriginal students, industry trainees and workers, along with existing water operators.
"There are some great regional employment opportunities in this sector - councils, water authorities, and irrigation districts all crying out for trained staff."
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