Northern Territory community’s clean water struggle opens eyes on billion dollar issue facing Aboriginal communities

National Indigenous Times November 8 2022

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett’s retelling of their long battle for clean drinking water brought the devastating reality for many remote Indigenous communities to the spotlight at Parliament House on Monday.

For years the pair have open their own wallets for what is a given to most but seemingly out of reach in their home of Alpurrurulam on the Queensland-Northern Territory border.

Speaking at the Water Services Association of Australia’s Closing the Water for People and Communities Gap report launch their struggle gave voice to a troubling truth.

Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney went one step further.

“Most of you in this room get up in the morning put on the jug and make a cup of tea or coffee,” she said.

“Most of us when we go to bed in the evening get a glass of water and sit it beside our bed and don’t think twice about it.

“In many parts of remote Australia those things are just not possible.

“I’ve been to remote communities where it is cheaper to buy a bottle of coke than a bottle of water. It is not right.”

Ms Burney made reference to barriers this places on dialysis treatment across Indigenous communities.

Both delegates of the Territory’s Central Land Council, Mr Mahoney and Ms Corbett spoke alongside council staff to paint a dire picture of water injustice.

The ongoing impact of colonisation, displacement and dispossession continues in many senses in Alpurrurulam.

In the 1970’s an ultimately unsuccessful lease proposal to an American pastoral company failed to push the local Alyawarre people off country.

It did however succeed in severing their access and cultural connection to the Georgina River. 

As the threat of displacement went away so did a crucial resource.

Clean water continues to be used for cattle production locals now rely on bore water.

It causing itchiness, stomach sickness and potential for a variety of health impacts due to heavy treatment, unsuitable for showering let alone drinking.

Excess fluoride is a major concern.

“The bore water tastes funny,” Ms Corbett said.

“It’s hard to shower with.”

According to Mr Mahoney Government staff and health services bring their own water when visiting.

The CLC and local community have continuously fought for adequate infrastructure and funding with limited success.

In the past decade residents have poured almost $150,000 of their own money into desperate efforts to bring clean water to the area. 

“It’s Aboriginal money for essential services that we all take for granted,” CLC senior policy officer Georgia Stewart said.

A successful bid from the land council to the Government’s Aboriginal Benefits Account  2020 brought $4 million in funding toward new borefield within existing pastoral leases.

Despite being significant step forward it fell short of the money ultimately required.

It follows 10 years of cooperation with native title holders and pastoralists among a number of unsuccessful funding applications from the CLC and community funded Power and Water Corporation to Northern Territory government departments.

CLC, Power and Water Corporation and the National Indigenous Australians Agency are in negotiations to overcome the remaining amount needed for the borefield.

As of October 2022 Power and Water are seeking to obtain $1 million from the NT Government’s Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics and approval from NT Housing.

The WSAA report included the current state of Alpurrurulam as a case study. 

Wider investigation consulted over 170 stakeholders over 18 months.

It found a minimum of $2.2 billion is needed to address water injustice in Indigenous communities across the country and “more when you include replacing old pipes and plumbing,” according to WSAA executive director Adam Lovell.

Formalisation of drinking water guidelines across all states and territories, increased water quality monitoring, technology investment to combat climate change threats and stronger First Nations decision making in services received were recommended fro the report.

“All levels of government, service providers, industry and researchers have role to play in tackling the innate complexities of this field, and congratulations (for WSAA) for being part of that collaboration,” Minster Burney said.

“This is an issue that should not exist in a first world nation like Australia, and it’s within our capacity to fix it.”

Almost 200,000 Australians don’t have safe drinking water, new report finds

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-11/remote-water-quality-doesnt-meet-health-guidelines-indigenous/101318826

August 11 2022

Almost 200,000 Australians are often forced to drink water containing unsafe levels of uranium, arsenic, nitrates, fluoride and E. coli, according to water researchers.

A further 400,000 people across Australia regularly drink water that fails aesthetic standards.

Researchers from the Australian National University discovered unsafe drinking water in 115 locations, while hundreds more had water that did not meet acceptable aesthetic benchmarks.

Towns and communities in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia returned the worst water quality results, with remote Indigenous communities found to be the most affected by unsafe drinking water. 

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett, who live in Alpurrurulam, 500 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs on the NT-Queensland border, say poor water quality causes a wide range of illnesses and problems. 

“It makes you itchy … and causes kidney problems and makes you sick in the stomach,” Mr Mahoney said.

“People with sensitive skin were treated for scabies, but it wasn’t scabies. Children’s scalps were dry and itching, and lots of calcium on the taps and clogged pipes caused problems.” 

The community recently installed a filtration system which, they said, had helped to improve the water quality, but it did not remove everything and many people still suffered health issues because they had been forced to drink poor quality water for years.

“Before that it was worse,” Ms Corbett said.

“We didn’t know we were drinking no-good water. It made our stomach sick, and … our kids.” 

Ms Corbett said she and her partner had approached governments, the Central Land Council and other funding bodies for a new water bore for the community but progress had been slow.

“I’m worried because of our kids, their future, the next generation. We need to fix this. We need new water soon, ASAP,” Mr Mahoney said.

“It’s our homeland. We’re there for life and we should have good water.”

600,000 rely on poor quality drinking water

The ANU research has been included in a report from the Water Services Association of Australia which shows 115 locations across remote Australia exceeded safe guidelines at least once in 2018-19, while 408 locations did not meet aesthetic standards, affecting more than 600,000 people. 

More than 40 per cent of all locations surveyed were remote Indigenous communities, the report said.

But association executive director Adam Lovell said the number of locations and breaches of the guidelines actually  could be much higher because there was not enough testing being done. 

“There’s hardly any data to understand what the water quality looks like,” he said.

“When we talk about closing the gap, we don’t know what that gap actually looks like right now.”

Unacceptably high levels of elements like uranium or arsenic could result in long-term chronic health issues, Mr Lovell said, but the most common risk was E. coli. 

“It’s immediate. If a water supply is not being disinfected properly then there’ll be gastrointestinal problems in the house,” he said.

“Over the longer term you’ll see that the chemical impacts build up and build up and build up and they’re the chronic impacts, which are much harder to see immediately and then much harder to treat.”

‘Blame shifting’ over water quality

Mr Lovell said in Australia’s major cities there were usually hundreds of water samples taken a day, testing for microbial contaminants like E. coli and chemicals.

“Australian drinking water guidelines should be preferably legislated and regulated across all states and territories, which currently it is not,” he said.

Report author Eric Vanweydeveld said there were too many government departments and other organisations involved in service provision for remote communities, which led to blame shifting and inaction. 

“If there is a water leak in the street, and you are a member of a remote community and you try to understand ‘who do I need to talk to to fix this leak?’, you will deal with probably seven or 10 different departments,” he said.

The report has recommended that the federal government spend $30 million to establish a national water monitoring program.

“That will help us understand what closing the gap looks like,” Mr Lovell said. 

Steven Porter, from the Northern Territory Power and Water Corporation, said it had been working with the Central Land Council to secure $5.2 million from the National Indigenous Australians Agency to bring two new bores online but there was still a $1 million shortfall. 

“In doing that we can access better sources of water and improve the quality of water for the local community,” he said. 

Alpurrurulam (Northern Territory) – Fluoride

2007/08: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.6mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.57mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2013/14: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2015/16: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.6mg/L

2016/17: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.8mg/L

2016/17: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.8mg/L

2017/18: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (95th %)

2018/19: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (95th %)

2020/21: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (max), 1.6mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (max), 1.6mg/L (av.)

“Fluoride occurs naturally in seawater (1.4 mg/L), soil (up to 300 parts per million) and air (from volcanic gases and industrial pollution). Naturally occurring fluoride concentrations in drinking water depend on the type of soil and rock through which the water drains. Generally, concentrations in surface water are relatively low (<0.1–0.5 mg/L), while water from deeper wells may have quite high concentrations (1–10 mg/L) if the rock formations are fluoride-rich.” 2011 ADWG. Health Guideline: 1.5mg/L

Alpurrurulam – Northern Territory – Hardness

2007/08: Alpurrurlam Hardness 503mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulam Hardness 497mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Hardness 438mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Hardness 461mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Hardness 459mg/L

2015/16: Alpurrurulam Hardness 471mg/L

2016/17: Alpurrurulam Hardness 485mg/L

2020/21: Alpurrurulam Hardness 500mg/L (max), 500mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurrurulam Hardness 500mg/L (max), 500mg/L (av.)

GUIDELINE

“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.

Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Alpurrurulam – Northern Territory – Total Dissolved Solids

2007/08: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 908mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 924mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 921mg/L

2015/16: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 902mg/L

2016/17: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 887mg/L

2020/21: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 1000mg/L (max), 900mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 960mg/L (max), 920mg/L (av.)

GUIDELINE

“No specific health guideline value is provided for total dissolved solids (TDS), as there are no
health effects directly attributable to TDS. However for good palatability total dissolved solids
in drinking water should not exceed 600 mg/L.

Total dissolved solids (TDS) consist of inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. Clay particles, colloidal iron and manganese oxides and silica, fine enough to pass through a 0.45 micron filter membrane can also contribute to total dissolved solids.

Total dissolved solids comprise: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, bicarbonate, carbonate, silica, organic matter, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrate, nitrite and phosphates…” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Alpurrurulam – (Northern Territory) – Iodine

2007/08: Alpurrurulum Iodine 0.2mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulum Iodine 0.175mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.17mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.18mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.16mg/L

GUIDELINE
Iodide: Based on health considerations, the concentration of iodide in drinking water should
not exceed 0.5 mg/L.
Iodine: No guideline value has been set for molecular iodine.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION
The element iodine is present naturally in seawater, nitrate minerals and seaweed, mostly in the form of iodide salts. It may be present in water due to leaching from salt and mineral deposits. Iodide can be oxidised to molecular iodine with strong disinfectants such as chlorine.
Molecular iodine solutions are used as antiseptics and as sanitising agents in hospitals and laboratories.
Iodine is occasionally used for the emergency disinfection of water for field use but is not used for disinfecting larger drinking water supplies. Iodide is used in pharmaceutical and photographic materials. Iodine has a taste threshold in water of about 0.15 mg/L.
Iodide occurs in cows’ milk and seafood. Some countries add iodide to table salt to compensate for iodide-deficient diets.

 

2007/22 – Alpurrurulam (Northern Territory) – Fluoride, Hardness, Total Dissolved Solids, Iodine

Northern Territory community’s clean water struggle opens eyes on billion dollar issue facing Aboriginal communities

National Indigenous Times November 8 2022

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett’s retelling of their long battle for clean drinking water brought the devastating reality for many remote Indigenous communities to the spotlight at Parliament House on Monday.

For years the pair have open their own wallets for what is a given to most but seemingly out of reach in their home of Alpurrurulam on the Queensland-Northern Territory border.

Speaking at the Water Services Association of Australia’s Closing the Water for People and Communities Gap report launch their struggle gave voice to a troubling truth.

Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney went one step further.

“Most of you in this room get up in the morning put on the jug and make a cup of tea or coffee,” she said.

“Most of us when we go to bed in the evening get a glass of water and sit it beside our bed and don’t think twice about it.

“In many parts of remote Australia those things are just not possible.

“I’ve been to remote communities where it is cheaper to buy a bottle of coke than a bottle of water. It is not right.”

Ms Burney made reference to barriers this places on dialysis treatment across Indigenous communities.

Both delegates of the Territory’s Central Land Council, Mr Mahoney and Ms Corbett spoke alongside council staff to paint a dire picture of water injustice.

The ongoing impact of colonisation, displacement and dispossession continues in many senses in Alpurrurulam.

In the 1970’s an ultimately unsuccessful lease proposal to an American pastoral company failed to push the local Alyawarre people off country.

It did however succeed in severing their access and cultural connection to the Georgina River.

As the threat of displacement went away so did a crucial resource.

Clean water continues to be used for cattle production locals now rely on bore water.

It causing itchiness, stomach sickness and potential for a variety of health impacts due to heavy treatment, unsuitable for showering let alone drinking.

Excess fluoride is a major concern.

“The bore water tastes funny,” Ms Corbett said.

“It’s hard to shower with.”

According to Mr Mahoney Government staff and health services bring their own water when visiting.

The CLC and local community have continuously fought for adequate infrastructure and funding with limited success.

In the past decade residents have poured almost $150,000 of their own money into desperate efforts to bring clean water to the area.

“It’s Aboriginal money for essential services that we all take for granted,” CLC senior policy officer Georgia Stewart said.

A successful bid from the land council to the Government’s Aboriginal Benefits Account  2020 brought $4 million in funding toward new borefield within existing pastoral leases.

Despite being significant step forward it fell short of the money ultimately required.

It follows 10 years of cooperation with native title holders and pastoralists among a number of unsuccessful funding applications from the CLC and community funded Power and Water Corporation to Northern Territory government departments.

CLC, Power and Water Corporation and the National Indigenous Australians Agency are in negotiations to overcome the remaining amount needed for the borefield.

As of October 2022 Power and Water are seeking to obtain $1 million from the NT Government’s Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics and approval from NT Housing.

The WSAA report included the current state of Alpurrurulam as a case study.

Wider investigation consulted over 170 stakeholders over 18 months.

It found a minimum of $2.2 billion is needed to address water injustice in Indigenous communities across the country and “more when you include replacing old pipes and plumbing,” according to WSAA executive director Adam Lovell.

Formalisation of drinking water guidelines across all states and territories, increased water quality monitoring, technology investment to combat climate change threats and stronger First Nations decision making in services received were recommended fro the report.

“All levels of government, service providers, industry and researchers have role to play in tackling the innate complexities of this field, and congratulations (for WSAA) for being part of that collaboration,” Minster Burney said.

“This is an issue that should not exist in a first world nation like Australia, and it’s within our capacity to fix it.”

Almost 200,000 Australians don’t have safe drinking water, new report finds

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-11/remote-water-quality-doesnt-meet-health-guidelines-indigenous/101318826

August 11 2022

Almost 200,000 Australians are often forced to drink water containing unsafe levels of uranium, arsenic, nitrates, fluoride and E. coli, according to water researchers.

A further 400,000 people across Australia regularly drink water that fails aesthetic standards.

Researchers from the Australian National University discovered unsafe drinking water in 115 locations, while hundreds more had water that did not meet acceptable aesthetic benchmarks.

Towns and communities in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia returned the worst water quality results, with remote Indigenous communities found to be the most affected by unsafe drinking water.

Jackie Mahoney and Pam Corbett, who live in Alpurrurulam, 500 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs on the NT-Queensland border, say poor water quality causes a wide range of illnesses and problems.

“It makes you itchy … and causes kidney problems and makes you sick in the stomach,” Mr Mahoney said.

“People with sensitive skin were treated for scabies, but it wasn’t scabies. Children’s scalps were dry and itching, and lots of calcium on the taps and clogged pipes caused problems.”

The community recently installed a filtration system which, they said, had helped to improve the water quality, but it did not remove everything and many people still suffered health issues because they had been forced to drink poor quality water for years.

“Before that it was worse,” Ms Corbett said.

“We didn’t know we were drinking no-good water. It made our stomach sick, and … our kids.”

Ms Corbett said she and her partner had approached governments, the Central Land Council and other funding bodies for a new water bore for the community but progress had been slow.

“I’m worried because of our kids, their future, the next generation. We need to fix this. We need new water soon, ASAP,” Mr Mahoney said.

“It’s our homeland. We’re there for life and we should have good water.”

600,000 rely on poor quality drinking water

The ANU research has been included in a report from the Water Services Association of Australia which shows 115 locations across remote Australia exceeded safe guidelines at least once in 2018-19, while 408 locations did not meet aesthetic standards, affecting more than 600,000 people.

More than 40 per cent of all locations surveyed were remote Indigenous communities, the report said.

But association executive director Adam Lovell said the number of locations and breaches of the guidelines actually  could be much higher because there was not enough testing being done.

“There’s hardly any data to understand what the water quality looks like,” he said.

“When we talk about closing the gap, we don’t know what that gap actually looks like right now.”

Unacceptably high levels of elements like uranium or arsenic could result in long-term chronic health issues, Mr Lovell said, but the most common risk was E. coli.

“It’s immediate. If a water supply is not being disinfected properly then there’ll be gastrointestinal problems in the house,” he said.

“Over the longer term you’ll see that the chemical impacts build up and build up and build up and they’re the chronic impacts, which are much harder to see immediately and then much harder to treat.”

‘Blame shifting’ over water quality

Mr Lovell said in Australia’s major cities there were usually hundreds of water samples taken a day, testing for microbial contaminants like E. coli and chemicals.

“Australian drinking water guidelines should be preferably legislated and regulated across all states and territories, which currently it is not,” he said.

Report author Eric Vanweydeveld said there were too many government departments and other organisations involved in service provision for remote communities, which led to blame shifting and inaction.

“If there is a water leak in the street, and you are a member of a remote community and you try to understand ‘who do I need to talk to to fix this leak?’, you will deal with probably seven or 10 different departments,” he said.

The report has recommended that the federal government spend $30 million to establish a national water monitoring program.

“That will help us understand what closing the gap looks like,” Mr Lovell said.

Steven Porter, from the Northern Territory Power and Water Corporation, said it had been working with the Central Land Council to secure $5.2 million from the National Indigenous Australians Agency to bring two new bores online but there was still a $1 million shortfall.

“In doing that we can access better sources of water and improve the quality of water for the local community,” he said.

Alpurrurulam (Northern Territory) – Fluoride

2007/08: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.6mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.57mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2013/14: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.5mg/L

2015/16: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.6mg/L

2016/17: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.8mg/L

2017/18: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (95th %)

2018/19: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (95th %)

2019/20: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (95th %)

2020/21: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (max), 1.6mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurruralam Fluoride 1.7mg/L (max), 1.6mg/L (av.)

“Fluoride occurs naturally in seawater (1.4 mg/L), soil (up to 300 parts per million) and air (from volcanic gases and industrial pollution). Naturally occurring fluoride concentrations in drinking water depend on the type of soil and rock through which the water drains. Generally, concentrations in surface water are relatively low (<0.1–0.5 mg/L), while water from deeper wells may have quite high concentrations (1–10 mg/L) if the rock formations are fluoride-rich.” 2011 ADWG. Health Guideline: 1.5mg/L

Alpurrurulam – Northern Territory – Hardness

2007/08: Alpurrurlam Hardness 503mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulam Hardness 497mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Hardness 438mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Hardness 461mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Hardness 459mg/L

2015/16: Alpurrurulam Hardness 471mg/L

2016/17: Alpurrurulam Hardness 485mg/L

2020/21: Alpurrurulam Hardness 500mg/L (max), 500mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurrurulam Hardness 500mg/L (max), 500mg/L (av.)

GUIDELINE

“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.

Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Alpurrurulam – Northern Territory – Total Dissolved Solids

2007/08: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 908mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 924mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 921mg/L

2015/16: Alpurrurulam Total Dissolved Solids 902mg/L

2016/17: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 887mg/L

2020/21: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 1000mg/L (max), 900mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Alpurruralam Total Dissolved Solids 960mg/L (max), 920mg/L (av.)

GUIDELINE

“No specific health guideline value is provided for total dissolved solids (TDS), as there are no
health effects directly attributable to TDS. However for good palatability total dissolved solids
in drinking water should not exceed 600 mg/L.

Total dissolved solids (TDS) consist of inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. Clay particles, colloidal iron and manganese oxides and silica, fine enough to pass through a 0.45 micron filter membrane can also contribute to total dissolved solids.

Total dissolved solids comprise: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, bicarbonate, carbonate, silica, organic matter, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrate, nitrite and phosphates…” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Alpurrurulam – (Northern Territory) – Iodine

2007/08: Alpurrurulum Iodine 0.2mg/L

2008/09: Alpurrurulum Iodine 0.175mg/L

2009/10: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.17mg/L

2010/11: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.18mg/L

2013/14: Alpurrurulam Iodine 0.16mg/L

GUIDELINE
Iodide: Based on health considerations, the concentration of iodide in drinking water should
not exceed 0.5 mg/L.
Iodine: No guideline value has been set for molecular iodine.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION
The element iodine is present naturally in seawater, nitrate minerals and seaweed, mostly in the form of iodide salts. It may be present in water due to leaching from salt and mineral deposits. Iodide can be oxidised to molecular iodine with strong disinfectants such as chlorine.
Molecular iodine solutions are used as antiseptics and as sanitising agents in hospitals and laboratories.
Iodine is occasionally used for the emergency disinfection of water for field use but is not used for disinfecting larger drinking water supplies. Iodide is used in pharmaceutical and photographic materials. Iodine has a taste threshold in water of about 0.15 mg/L.
Iodide occurs in cows’ milk and seafood. Some countries add iodide to table salt to compensate for iodide-deficient diets.