"Boots will be on the ground" for the $30 million Quipolly Dam project by early 2021.
The new treatment plant and pipeline from the dam are key to water security for the Liverpool Plains shire and solving ongoing water quality issues in Werris Creek, which sources its water from the dam.
The Liverpool Plains Shire Council (LPSC) said it hopes to engage a contractor before Christmas so work can start in early 2021. The expected completion date is late 2022.
Construction was originally slated to start in late 2019 but hold-ups with government approvals and redesign due to the drought mean the project only went to tender three weeks ago, a year after originally planned, and almost three years after the state and federal government committed $10 million each in funding.
New England MP Barnaby Joyce and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson met with LPSC mayor and staff at the dam on Friday to discuss the major project.
Mr Joyce said he once lived in Werris Creek and the new infrastructure would improve the standard of living in the small town.
He said water was wealth and invited investment and industry, and encouraged population growth.
"If you haven't got water, you haven't got wealth," he said.
Mr Anderson said it would enable the council to further drought-proof its shire and would provide assurance of supply and capacity into the future.
Werris Creek was on water restrictions for 13 months from January 2019 because the existing water treatment plant struggled to keep up in the drought and there was less water in the dam. A deluge of rain in early 2020 filled Quipolly Dam and brought restrictions to an end.
LPSC said it is the largest infrastructure investment it has ever made and its contribution of $10 million is secure.
Mayor Andrew Hope said while the existing water treatment plant rendered the dam water safe to drink, there were sometimes issues with discolouration and odour and algal blooms had become an increasing issue.
LPSC water services manager Rod Batterham said the new infrastructure would service the population growth of Werris Creek "for the next 50 years" and enable the council to feed water from the dam to Quirindi and Willow Tree if there is ever the need.
The 21km two-way pump-driven pipeline will be built between Quipolly Dam and Werris Creek, and between the dam and Quirindi, which will then connect to the existing pipeline from Quirindi to Willow Tree.
The existing pipeline from the dam to Werris Creek is 100 years old.
The "state-of-the-art" water treatment plant will be built next to Quipolly Dam. In Werris Creek, the current water tower will be made redundant and water from the dam will feed into an existing tank alongside it.
The design of the plant had to rethought after algal blooms increased during the drought, which in turn increased the cost of the project, which was originally $28.3 million. The design now includes ozone treatment, which kills algae.
Mr Batterham said essentially, compared to the old plant, the new plant would have "filters on steroids" because the dam water will go through so many more processes than it does now. The other big advantage is that it will be automated, not manual, and will increase capacity.
He said the project was "very complex" and called for an experienced main contractor and specialist sub-contractors, including scuba drivers.