The taps in Nauiyu have intermittently spewed ‘dark brown’ water for years, tainted by iron and manganese

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-12-16/nauiyu-drinking-water-comes-out-brown-tainted-manganese/103211544

Every month or so, in a small remote community in the Northern Territory, Ingrid Schreiner’s faucets spew dark brown water tainted by iron, sodium and manganese.

She’s recorded cups and bowls in the kitchen sink filling up with the almost black water, as well as murky water flowing from the shower. 

“Most of the time there is a slight tinge of brown to it,” she said.

“Sometimes it runs clear.

“There are times I have documented — maybe once every month — it will run a very, very dark brown.”

“We just don’t drink it. Then we let it run and eventually it clears up.”

In the remote Indigenous community of Nauiyu, just more than 220 kilometres south of Darwin, on the banks of the Daly River, the taps have intermittently discharged brown water for as long as most can remember.

Bottled water is consumed by those who can afford it.

But for Ingrid, her partner and two children, that choice is out of reach.

“We just can’t afford to buy bottled water. It would leave a very big dent in our budget,” she said.

“I worry about the children … the kids have sores on their skin sometimes.

“Sometimes I’ve felt nauseous … there’s a certain smell to it and you just don’t want to drink it.

“Instincts say it’s not good.”

Manganese exceeds health guidelines 

Nauiyu’s water is pumped in through a bore, where manganese and iron occur naturally in the groundwater.

The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines recommend concentrations of manganese not exceed 0.5 milligrams per litre. 

But according to the latest data from Power and Water — the NT’s main water provider — “manganese concentrations in the community of Nauiyu exceeded the health based guideline value”, reaching maximums of 0.8mg per litre. 

International health agencies, such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry say elevated manganese levels can pose a risk to health, and studies of children have suggested that extremely high levels of manganese exposure may impact child brain development. 

E.Coli was also detected in the water in 2019. 

The water insecurity in Nauiyu isn’t an isolated case in the Northern Territory, where other remote communities also face problems with water infrastructure. 

Water quality data collated by the Power and Water Corporation show levels of uranium, lead, barium, antimony, sodium and arsenic in dozens of communities. 

In addition, there are no legal protections for drinking water quality in the Northern Territory.

At the beginning of the year, the Commonwealth pledged $150 million over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure and provide safe and reliable water for remote and regional communities,.

But critics say many more millions of dollars are needed. 

The ABC contacted the federal government to find out how much of that funding had been spent in communities so far, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Steve Kinny, the manager of the Daly River pub, buys in pallet loads of bottled water every few months for his staff.

It’s a ritual he’s undertaken since he arrived a decade ago.

He takes a positive outlook of the situation and says in the grand scheme of things, Nauiyu’s water situation is not as dire as in other communities. 

“We don’t drink the water, but it’s not undrinkable,” he said.

The community’s water is pumped from bores, and despite the intermittent issues, residents aren’t exempt from charges.

Big costs to community and school 

More than a year ago, the ABC reported that with no improvements on the horizon, Nauiyu’s Catholic school had installed tanks and filters on school grounds.

Paul Grieves, the director of Catholic Education NT, said it was an ongoing expense that was critical to ensure students and staff have access to clean drinking water.

Teacher housing also required costly filters to be installed, he said.

“As recently as today I had one of the staff down there tell me they’d turn the tap on on the weekend and there’s still tea coloured water coming out,” he said.

Power and Water said it was talking to community members and working to minimise discoloured water/iron and manganese “through system flushing and selecting the best bores,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“These investigations will allow Power and Water to develop and implement medium and long term actions to best manage the water supply.”

However, the spokesperson also said the corporation’s priority was managing pathogen risks first, which is consistent with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. 

 

Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River) – E.coli

18 – 22 August 2006: Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River). High levels of total coliforms found throughout the reticulation system and low E. coli count from one reticulation point

14 – 16 February 2007: Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River). High level of both total coliforms and E. coli in a sample taken from the Health Clinic.

2006/07: Nauiya Nambiyu (Daly River). E.coli 5 samples above trigger level. 90.7% below trigger level

2013/14: Nauiyu E.coli 1 detection 98% compliance

“E.coli
 

Thermotolerant coliforms are a sub-group of coliforms that are able to grow at 44.5 ± 0.2°C. E. coli is the most common thermotolerant coliform present in faeces and is regarded as the most specific indicator of recent faecal contamination because generally it is not capable of growth in the environment. In contrast, some other thermotolerant coliforms (including strains of Klebsiella, Citrobacter and Enterobacter) are able to grow in the environment and their presence is not necessarily related to faecal contamination. While tests for thermotolerant coliforms can be simpler than for E. coli, E. coli is considered a superior indicator for detecting faecal contamination…” ADWG

Nauiyu Nambiyu (Northern Territory) – Arsenic

2008/09: Nauiyu Arsenic 0.013mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Arsenic 0.0059mg/L

Arsenic: Australian Drinking Water Guideline = 0.01mg/L

Arsenic is bioaccumulative and symptoms may take 10-15 years to develop after expsoure at high levels. Drinking water can be contaminated with inorganic arsenic through wind blown dust, leaching or runoff from soil, rocks and sediment. Groundwater sources such as bores will usually have higher arsenic levels than surface water. In major Australian reticulated water supplies concentrations of arsenic range up to 0.015mg/L, with typical values less than
0.005mg/L. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/ph/documents/ehu/2676.pdf

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) – Turbidity

2008/09: Nauiyu Turbidity 5.8NTU

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Turbidity 20.5NTU

2010/11: Nauiyu (Daly River) Turbidity 13.4NTU

2013/14: Nauiyu Turbidity 8.2NTU

2016/17: Nauiyu Turbidity 6.4NTU

Chlorine-resistant pathogen reduction: Where filtration alone is used as the water treatment
process to address identified risks from Cryptosporidium and Giardia, it is essential
that filtration is optimised and consequently the target for the turbidity of water leaving
individual filters should be less than 0.2 NTU, and should not exceed 0.5 NTU at any time
Disinfection: A turbidity of less than 1 NTU is desirable at the time of disinfection with
chlorine unless a higher value can be validated in a specific context.

Aesthetic: Based on aesthetic considerations, the turbidity should not exceed 5 NTU at the
consumer’s tap.

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) Iron

2007/08: Nauiyu Iron 0.65mg/L

2008/09 Nauiyu Iron 1.38mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Iron 0.75mg/L

2010/11: Nauiyu (Daly River) Iron 0.57mg/L

2013/14: Nauiyu Iron 0.35mg/L

Based on aesthetic considerations (precipitation of iron from solution and taste),
the concentration of iron in drinking water should not exceed 0.3 mg/L.
No health-based guideline value has been set for iron.

Iron has a taste threshold of about 0.3 mg/L in water, and becomes objectionable above 3 mg/L. High iron concentrations give water an undesirable rust-brown appearance and can cause staining of laundry and plumbing fittings, fouling of ion-exchange softeners, and blockages in irrigation systems. Growths of iron bacteria, which concentrate iron, may cause taste and odour problems and lead to pipe restrictions, blockages and corrosion. ADWG 2011

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) – Manganese

2008/09: Nauiyu Manganese 0.56mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Manganese 0.811mg/L

2019/20: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.6mg/L (95th %)

2020/21: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.4mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.8mg/L (max), 0.3mg/L (av.)

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

Water in Nauiyu comes out brown. Here’s how remote NT residents are coping

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-12/nauiyu-water-quality-remote-nt-community/100980956

In the remote community of Nauiyu, about 225 kilometres south of Darwin, the water comes out brown.

That is mainly because there is a high level of iron in the ground.

There are no proven health risks of drinking the water, but residents in the area say there is only one way they can make it work.

 

2006/17 + 2022/23: Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) – E.coli, Arsenic, Turbidity, Iron, Manganese

The taps in Nauiyu have intermittently spewed ‘dark brown’ water for years, tainted by iron and manganese

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-12-16/nauiyu-drinking-water-comes-out-brown-tainted-manganese/103211544

Every month or so, in a small remote community in the Northern Territory, Ingrid Schreiner’s faucets spew dark brown water tainted by iron, sodium and manganese.

She’s recorded cups and bowls in the kitchen sink filling up with the almost black water, as well as murky water flowing from the shower.

“Most of the time there is a slight tinge of brown to it,” she said.

“Sometimes it runs clear.

“There are times I have documented — maybe once every month — it will run a very, very dark brown.”

“We just don’t drink it. Then we let it run and eventually it clears up.”

In the remote Indigenous community of Nauiyu, just more than 220 kilometres south of Darwin, on the banks of the Daly River, the taps have intermittently discharged brown water for as long as most can remember.

Bottled water is consumed by those who can afford it.

But for Ingrid, her partner and two children, that choice is out of reach.

“We just can’t afford to buy bottled water. It would leave a very big dent in our budget,” she said.

“I worry about the children … the kids have sores on their skin sometimes.

“Sometimes I’ve felt nauseous … there’s a certain smell to it and you just don’t want to drink it.

“Instincts say it’s not good.”

Manganese exceeds health guidelines

Nauiyu’s water is pumped in through a bore, where manganese and iron occur naturally in the groundwater.

The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines recommend concentrations of manganese not exceed 0.5 milligrams per litre.

But according to the latest data from Power and Water — the NT’s main water provider — “manganese concentrations in the community of Nauiyu exceeded the health based guideline value”, reaching maximums of 0.8mg per litre.

International health agencies, such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry say elevated manganese levels can pose a risk to health, and studies of children have suggested that extremely high levels of manganese exposure may impact child brain development.

E.Coli was also detected in the water in 2019.

The water insecurity in Nauiyu isn’t an isolated case in the Northern Territory, where other remote communities also face problems with water infrastructure.

Water quality data collated by the Power and Water Corporation show levels of uranium, lead, barium, antimony, sodium and arsenic in dozens of communities.

In addition, there are no legal protections for drinking water quality in the Northern Territory.

At the beginning of the year, the Commonwealth pledged $150 million over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure and provide safe and reliable water for remote and regional communities,.

But critics say many more millions of dollars are needed.

The ABC contacted the federal government to find out how much of that funding had been spent in communities so far, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Steve Kinny, the manager of the Daly River pub, buys in pallet loads of bottled water every few months for his staff.

It’s a ritual he’s undertaken since he arrived a decade ago.

He takes a positive outlook of the situation and says in the grand scheme of things, Nauiyu’s water situation is not as dire as in other communities.

“We don’t drink the water, but it’s not undrinkable,” he said.

The community’s water is pumped from bores, and despite the intermittent issues, residents aren’t exempt from charges.

Big costs to community and school

More than a year ago, the ABC reported that with no improvements on the horizon, Nauiyu’s Catholic school had installed tanks and filters on school grounds.

Paul Grieves, the director of Catholic Education NT, said it was an ongoing expense that was critical to ensure students and staff have access to clean drinking water.

Teacher housing also required costly filters to be installed, he said.

“As recently as today I had one of the staff down there tell me they’d turn the tap on on the weekend and there’s still tea coloured water coming out,” he said.

Power and Water said it was talking to community members and working to minimise discoloured water/iron and manganese “through system flushing and selecting the best bores,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“These investigations will allow Power and Water to develop and implement medium and long term actions to best manage the water supply.”

However, the spokesperson also said the corporation’s priority was managing pathogen risks first, which is consistent with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

 

Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River) – E.coli

18 – 22 August 2006: Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River). High levels of total coliforms found throughout the reticulation system and low E. coli count from one reticulation point

14 – 16 February 2007: Nauiyu Nambiyu (Daly River). High level of both total coliforms and E. coli in a sample taken from the Health Clinic.

2006/07: Nauiya Nambiyu (Daly River). E.coli 5 samples above trigger level. 90.7% below trigger level

2013/14: Nauiyu E.coli 1 detection 98% compliance

“E.coli

Thermotolerant coliforms are a sub-group of coliforms that are able to grow at 44.5 ± 0.2°C. E. coli is the most common thermotolerant coliform present in faeces and is regarded as the most specific indicator of recent faecal contamination because generally it is not capable of growth in the environment. In contrast, some other thermotolerant coliforms (including strains of Klebsiella, Citrobacter and Enterobacter) are able to grow in the environment and their presence is not necessarily related to faecal contamination. While tests for thermotolerant coliforms can be simpler than for E. coli, E. coli is considered a superior indicator for detecting faecal contamination…” ADWG

Nauiyu Nambiyu (Northern Territory) – Arsenic

2008/09: Nauiyu Arsenic 0.013mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Arsenic 0.0059mg/L

Arsenic: Australian Drinking Water Guideline = 0.01mg/L

Arsenic is bioaccumulative and symptoms may take 10-15 years to develop after expsoure at high levels. Drinking water can be contaminated with inorganic arsenic through wind blown dust, leaching or runoff from soil, rocks and sediment. Groundwater sources such as bores will usually have higher arsenic levels than surface water. In major Australian reticulated water supplies concentrations of arsenic range up to 0.015mg/L, with typical values less than
0.005mg/L. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/ph/documents/ehu/2676.pdf

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) – Turbidity

2008/09: Nauiyu Turbidity 5.8NTU

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Turbidity 20.5NTU

2010/11: Nauiyu (Daly River) Turbidity 13.4NTU

2013/14: Nauiyu Turbidity 8.2NTU

2016/17: Nauiyu Turbidity 6.4NTU

Chlorine-resistant pathogen reduction: Where filtration alone is used as the water treatment
process to address identified risks from Cryptosporidium and Giardia, it is essential
that filtration is optimised and consequently the target for the turbidity of water leaving
individual filters should be less than 0.2 NTU, and should not exceed 0.5 NTU at any time
Disinfection: A turbidity of less than 1 NTU is desirable at the time of disinfection with
chlorine unless a higher value can be validated in a specific context.

Aesthetic: Based on aesthetic considerations, the turbidity should not exceed 5 NTU at the
consumer’s tap.

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) Iron

2007/08: Nauiyu Iron 0.65mg/L

2008/09 Nauiyu Iron 1.38mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Iron 0.75mg/L

2010/11: Nauiyu (Daly River) Iron 0.57mg/L

2013/14: Nauiyu Iron 0.35mg/L

Based on aesthetic considerations (precipitation of iron from solution and taste),
the concentration of iron in drinking water should not exceed 0.3 mg/L.
No health-based guideline value has been set for iron.

Iron has a taste threshold of about 0.3 mg/L in water, and becomes objectionable above 3 mg/L. High iron concentrations give water an undesirable rust-brown appearance and can cause staining of laundry and plumbing fittings, fouling of ion-exchange softeners, and blockages in irrigation systems. Growths of iron bacteria, which concentrate iron, may cause taste and odour problems and lead to pipe restrictions, blockages and corrosion. ADWG 2011

Nauiyu Nambiyu/Daly River (Northern Territory) – Manganese

2008/09: Nauiyu Manganese 0.56mg/L

2009/10: Nauiyu (Daly River) Manganese 0.811mg/L

2019/20: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.6mg/L (95th %)

2020/21: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.4mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Nauiyu (Northern Territory) Manganese 0.8mg/L (max), 0.3mg/L (av.)

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

Water in Nauiyu comes out brown. Here’s how remote NT residents are coping

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-12/nauiyu-water-quality-remote-nt-community/100980956

In the remote community of Nauiyu, about 225 kilometres south of Darwin, the water comes out brown.

That is mainly because there is a high level of iron in the ground.

There are no proven health risks of drinking the water, but residents in the area say there is only one way they can make it work.