Broken Hill residents frustrated by brown mains water as emergency supply activated
Residents in central and north Broken Hill say brown water is still coming out of their taps, more than two weeks after the issue was first reported.
Peter Jinks has lived in his house near the centre of the city for about 25 years.
He claimed the water quality at his place was not up to scratch.
“I boiled the kettle this morning to make a cup of tea and it tastes absolutely shocking,” he said.
“It tastes metallic, it’s very brown and it smells.”
Mr Jinks said there had been times in the past when the water quality was impacted by the drought, but he believed this was different.
“It’s certainly not drinkable, it’s a shocking state of affairs,” he said.
“Back in the day when there was no water in the [Menindee] Lakes and we were drinking filtered mud, that was pretty bad.
“But this is supposed to be cleaned water from the Murray River.”
The ABC has spoken to several people experiencing similar issues to Mr Jinks, who have decided to remain anonymous.
‘Safe to drink’
According to authorities, the water is still safe to drink and use — although they have acknowledged the community’s frustrations and concerns.
Essential Water has promised to use locally sourced supply until the discolouration dissipates.
“The discolouration occurred in Broken Hill’s water when high organics were observed in the Murray River supply,” Head of Water Ross Berry said.
“The water was immediately switched to the Stephens Creek emergency supply, which resolved the discolouration issue.
“However, some discoloured water had already dispatched through the town’s supply system.”
According to Mr Berry, the safety aspect of the water treatment process was not compromised.
“Turbidity and chlorine levels remained in line with health guidelines for all water leaving our treatment plant,” he said.
In a statement, Mr Berry assured Broken Hill residents that Murray River water would not be used until further discussions with Water NSW resolved the quality issues.
“Increased flushing around Broken Hill has commenced, and the Stephens Creek water is expected to be fully throughout the system by Saturday afternoon,” he said.
Photos: Early November 2022
Stephens Creek Reservoir November 2022
Quality of Broken Hill’s drinking water remains a concern, despite assurance from authorities
Imagine turning on your tap for a refreshing glass of water only to see murky liquid coming out of the faucet.
This has been the reality for many residents in parts of Broken Hill for a couple of weeks.
Officials have blamed ongoing flooding in the Murray River causing a change to the river’s organic composition as the cause of the discolouration, but not all everyone is convinced.
Michael Howarth, who lives in Cummins Street in the north part of Broken Hill, said his tap water had been discoloured in the past.
He has his own theory about what is causing the issue now.
“On occasion the town reservoir tanks are left to go too low in the level, especially [in] summertime,” he said.
“The water warms up and turns over and picks up all the scum off the bottom of the tank.
“Years ago, I know they used to get scuba divers with flash vacuums to clean out the tanks … I don’t know if that’s been done recently or not, so that could be a factor.”
Flushing the system clean
Far West supplier Essential Water has been testing the water at various locations in the Silver City since the issue was reported.
Organisation head Ross Berry told the ABC last week that Essential Water always filters the water before it leaves the treatment plants.
“We have increased flushing in the reticulation system to generate a quicker turnover of water,” he said in a statement.
“In addition, we are using water from Stephens Creek to alter the organic composition of the water, mixing 50/50 with Murray River water, which will help resolve the issue.”
Mr Berry Essential Water expected the discolouration to ease over the coming weeks.
He also assured residents the water would continue to meet the Australian Drinking Water guidelines throughout this period.
‘That’s absolute crap’
Mr Howarth said his water had changed from brown to clear and back again over the past few days, sometimes multiple times in one day.
But he said he found it difficult to believe the water was safe to drink while it was discoloured and has invited Mr Berry to visit him and personally have a glass from his tap.
“If it’s got floating particles in it, it’s not safe to drink at all,” he said.
“It might test OK pH-wise, it might test okay with residual chlorine in the water, but as far as saying it’s safe, that’s absolute crap.
“You’ve got to cook with it, you’ve got to drink it, you’ve got to wash your clothes in it, you’ve got to wash yourself with it.
“It’s not a good feeling.”
The ABC has contacted Essential Water and Ross Berry for additional comment regarding Mr Howarth’s concerns but is yet to receive a response.
Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Manganese
Manganese: ADWG Guidelines 0.5mg/L. ADWG Aesthetic Guideline 0.1mg/L
Manganese is found in the natural environment. Manganese in drinking water above 0.1mg/L can give water an unpleasant taste and stain plumbing fixtures and laundry.
Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Trihalomethanes
2014: Broken Hill (New South Wales) Trihalomethanes – Total 280μg/L (Highest detection)
1/1/19 – 31/3/19: Broken Hill (New South Wales) Trihalomethanes – 284μg/L (Highest detection), Total 201μg/L (av. detection)
Trihalomethanes Australian Guideline Level 250μg/L (0.25mg/L)
Why and how are THMs formed?
“When chlorine is added to water with organic material, such as algae, river weeds, and decaying leaves, THMs are formed. Residual chlorine molecules react with this harmless organic material to form a group of chlorinated chemical compounds, THMs. They are tasteless and odourless, but harmful and potentially toxic. The quantity of by-products formed is determined by several factors, such as the amount and type of organic material present in water, temperature, pH, chlorine dosage, contact time available for chlorine, and bromide concentration in the water. The organic matter in water mainly consists of a) humic substance, which is the organic portion of soil that remains after prolonged microbial decomposition formed by the decay of leaves, wood, and other vegetable matter; and b) fulvic acid, which is a water soluble substance of low molecular weight that is derived from humus”. Source: https://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminant
Based on health considerations, the guideline value for total chlorine in drinking water is 5 mg/L.
Chlorine dissociates in water to form free chlorine, which consists of aqueous molecular chlorine, hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion. Chlorine and hypochlorites are toxic to microorganisms and are used extensively as disinfectants for drinking water supplies. Chlorine is also used to disinfect sewage and wastewater, swimming pool water, in-plant supplies, and industrial cooling water.
Chlorine has an odour threshold in drinking water of about 0.6 mg/L, but some people are particularly sensitive and can detect amounts as low as 0.2 mg/L. Water authorities may need to exceed the odour threshold value of 0.6 mg/L in order to maintain an effective disinfectant residual.
In the food industry, chlorine and hypochlorites are used for general sanitation and for odour control. Large amounts of chlorine are used in the production of industrial and domestic disinfectants and bleaches, and it is used in the synthesis of a large range of chemical compounds.
Free chlorine reacts with ammonia and certain nitrogen compounds to form combined chlorine. With ammonia, chlorine forms chloramines (monochloramine, dichloramine and nitrogen trichloride or trichloramine) (APHA 2012). Chloramines are used for disinfection but are weaker oxidising agents than free chlorine.
Free chlorine and combined chlorine may be present simultaneously (APHA 2012). The term totalchlorine refers to the sum of free chlorine and combined chlorine present in a sample.
Chlorine (Free) ADWG Guideline: 5mg/L (Chlorine in chloraminated supplies 4.1mg/L). Chlorine dissociates in water to form free chlorine, which consists of aqueous molecular chlorine, hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion.
Chlorine (Total) ADWG Guideline 5mg/L (chloraminated supplies 4.1mg/L): The term total chlorine refers to the sum of free chlorine and combined chlorine present in a sample
Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Lead
2014: Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Lead 0.009mg/L (Highest Detection)
Lead Australian Drinking Water Guideline 0.01mg/L
“… Lead can be present in drinking water as a result of dissolution from natural sources, or from household plumbing systems containing lead. These may include lead in pipes, or in solder used to seal joints. The amount of lead dissolved will depend on a number of factors including pH, water hardness and the standing time of the water.
Lead is the most common of the heavy metals and is mined widely throughout the world. It is used in the production of lead acid batteries, solder, alloys, cable sheathing, paint pigments, rust inhibitors, ammunition, glazes and plastic stabilisers. The organo-lead compounds tetramethyl and tetraethyl lead are used extensively as anti-knock and lubricating compounds in gasoline…
Broken Hill – New South Wales – Total Dissolved Solids
2013: Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Electrical Conductivity 1050μS/cm (Maximum Level)
2016: Broken Hill (New South Wales) – Electrical Conductivity 1231μS/cm (Maximum Level), 853μS/cm (av.)
“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