Water - the lack of it - and the proposed Shenhua coal mine were among the topics residents raised with state election candidates in Gunnedah on Wednesday.
The Meet the Candidates event was facilitated by Gunnedah and District Chamber of Commerce and drew more than 30 residents from across the shire who were keen to ask questions.
Five of the candidates - The Nationals' Kevin Anderson; Country Labor's Stephen Mears; Greens' Robin Gunning; Shooters, Fishers and Farmers' Jeff Bacon; and independent Mark Rodda - took part. Animal Justice Party’s Emma Hall was unable to attend.
Lake Keepit Sailing Club commodore Ian Pine asked the candidates if they would support a minimum reserve of 10 per cent capacity in the dam for "social benefit"; actively lobby for the Namoi water sharing plan to be amended to that effect "regardless of the composition of the next parliament"; and to commit to legislation to the point they would "cross the floor".
"[It's] a disaster in both environmental and human terms that continues to worsen at Lake Keepit," Mr Pine said.
"Surely as our political representatives, you must recognise the importance for legislation to make sure a disaster like this does not occur again."
Mark Rodda, Robin Gunning and Jeff Bacon said they supported every notion put forward by Mr Pine, and Stephen Mears said Labor, like Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, supported a federal royal commission into the management of water in the Murray Darling Basin.
Kevin Anderson said there were many factors to consider and water management needed to be reassessed.
"It's a very complicated situation when you think about the extreme circumstances that we are in at the moment," Mr Anderson said.
"They don't have water models, they don't have planning models, that actually work in these current times.
"I'd like us to hit the refresh button, to stop and reassess how we manage water."
Shenhua was at the centre of discussions on water management and Gunnedah's economy.
Local resident John Harford said farming and mining could "co-exist" and asked Mr Rodda "why would you not want to see [the project] go ahead?", with all its economic benefits.
Mr Rodda said he did not agree with a "foreign-owned" mine getting the green light and, like Ms Gunning, said resources other than coal needed to be considered in the future.
Breeza's Marie Wilson also raised the proposed mine, asking Mr Anderson why "any government" in the "biggest drought in history" would allow mines to use "precious water to wash coal and suppress dust over protecting water for the food".
Mr Anderson said a "balance" must be struck between mining and agriculture and that he wanted to "ensure our water is protected and our prime agricultural land".
The sitting MP said his understanding was that "there is no water underneath where they are telling me it is going to go".
Mr Bacon strongly refuted this comment, saying "you can't make that call".
"The environmental part of this process needs to be thoroughly investigated," Mr Bacon said.
"Our policy is quite simple in this area - if it affects water or prime agricultural land, we do not support it, but if it meets certain criteria, we're not going to fight it either. It's a balance."
Mr Mears said the "current stance of Labor government is there will be no Shenhua" but it may be considered "down the track".
"We are not anti-mining but we don't think the second most productive plains in the world should be threatened," he said.