Tap water in country towns leaves bad taste amid storm, floods, drought and government inaction
Jan 20 2023: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-19/country-tap-water-tastes-bad-odour-discolour-geosmin/101858220
Graeme Brown says he has been drinking bottled water for 20 years to avoid Dubbo’s dirt-flavoured tap water.
He says it tastes, smell and feels strange.
“It smells like old brass — it’s got a real stale smell, and the water’s really hard,” Mr Brown said.
“When you do the washing up you can smell it. I wouldn’t drink it, and I wouldn’t recommend drinking it.”
Dubbo’s tap water has been found to have high concentrations of geosmin, a chemical that causes an earthy taste and musty smell.
Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson said a succession of natural disasters was putting strain on the region’s ageing water treatment plants.
“We’ve had the effect of climate change and environmental change, and then we’ve had these extreme events such as the drought, the bushfire, and the floods,” Mr Dickerson said.
“It all impacts on the quality of the water we receive at the water treatment plant, and we have to try and deal with that.”
Mr Dickerson said the plants were designed in 2006 when the town primarily relied on bore water.
The town has increasingly relied on the Macquarie River for water as the town has grown.
He said floodwaters have flushed large quantities of dirt and sediments into the river system, worsened by the debris left behind by bushfires.
Discoloured water but no health concern
High turbidity and algae have also plagued the Warrumbungle Shire area, where locals have seen brown water running out of their taps.
Warrumbungle deputy mayor Aniello Iannuzzi says he has seen discoloured water flowing from the taps at his house and his doctor’s practice.
Dr Iannuzzi said it was often a result of ageing pipe infrastructure, both at a council level as well as individual properties.
While it isn’t a health concern, he says it is unpleasant.
“It’s more of a cosmetic and taste issue — although clearly if you’re washing your clothes it can be an issue,” Dr Iannuzzi said.
“Turbidity and discolouration of water is a frequent source of stress for residents and ratepayers in our shire.”
Country councils underfunded
University of Western Sydney water researcher Ian Wright says there is a vast divide in water quality between cities and country towns.
He pointed to a “scathing” 2020 Audit Office report into the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s water strategy, or lack thereof.
The report found the department had no long-term strategy and had “not effectively” supported or overseen town water planning since 2014.
“If you read these reports your blood will start to boil — why don’t we look after our regional communities better,” Professor Wright said.
“Our local government do so well, and they deserve a pat on the back … they’ve got this continual struggle just to get water quantity, let alone the variable nature of [the quality].”
Professor Wright said country councils were dealing with a “literal” perfect storm, with floods, drought, and underfunding from state government.
Water minister Kevin Anderson said the NSW government was working to secure the future for regional town water supply.
He said they were putting $32.8 million towards Phase 2 of the Town Water Risk Reduction Program.
“Water is our most precious asset,” Mr Anderson said.
“It is imperative that we are able to provide access to reliable town water for regional communities.”
Water supply in Dubbo undrinkable as boil water alert timeframe remains unclear
July 11 2022: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-07-11/dubbo-boil-water-alert-timeframe-remains-unclear/101226698
The water supply for Dubbo and some surrounding villages remains undrinkable five days after a boil-water alert was issued for the area.
Staff from Dubbo Regional Council are working with NSW Public Health to drain turbid water from the city’s reservoirs and re-fill them with compliant water.
Director of Infrastructure Luke Ryan says getting the water back to a safe drinking quality will happen in stages, with each village to be given the all-clear at different times.
“In terms of diluting the water, that means we’ve actually got to add water to the reservoir, and then drain it all the way back down,” he said.
Recent flooding in the Macquarie-Wambuul River caused turbidity levels in Dubbo’s water supply to exceed the maximum of 0.5 – triggering an immediate boil-water alert to be issued last Thursday morning.
Impacted villages include Firgrove, Wongarbon, Eumungerie, Ballimore, Mogriguy, and Brocklehurst.
Within an hour of the alert being issued, bottled water was stripped bare from supermarket shelves in Dubbo.
The same day the boil water alert was issued, the council advertised a three-year contract for the position of manager of strategy, water supply and sewerage.
It has told the ABC in a statement that the role is not related to recent issues with Dubbo’s water supply.
“The successful candidate will be involved in developing strategies to evolve Dubbo Regional Council’s existing capabilities to overcome or adapt to issues such as this in the future,” a spokesperson said.
Works to flush water ongoing
It’s not known exactly how long the process of draining and re-filling reservoirs will take, however, Mayor Matthew Dickerson says it will most certainly be longer than first anticipated.
Initial communications indicated that the council expected the process to take up to seven days.
A large volume of water will be moving through Dubbo’s stormwater system in the coming days as water is emptied out of reservoirs.
Council staff say it is the first time Dubbo has experienced a boil-water alert since November 2016, when bird excrement in one reservoir caused a high risk of E.coli contamination.
‘Catastrophic’ risk to the elderly, immunocompromised
The Western NSW Local Health District’s coordinator of communicable disease control Priscilla Stanley says the presence of cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrhoeal disease cryptosporidiosis, is of major concern.
“It can cause a catastrophic outcome … people need to keep boiling and cooling their water to keep themselves out of a dire situation,” she said.
The Dubbo region hasn’t experienced an increase in gastro illnesses, however, Ms Stanley urges people to be on the lookout for symptoms.
BOIL WATER ALERT: Dubbo water concerns continue | Updates
Alert to remain in place over the weekend
Dubbo Regional Council wishes to advise that the Boil Water Alert in place in North Dubbo will remain over the weekend.
For the area served by the Myall Street Reservoir, which is North Dubbo, the Boil Water Notice will remain in place while reservoir cleaning and further sampling are undertaken.
Water should be boiled for at least one minute before consumption by humans or pets.
Do not swallow water when showering and do not use to prepare food that will not be cooked.
The water may still be used for watering the garden.
Although there have been improvements observed overall since testing began, Council will continue to work with NSW Health to ensure the system has returned to normal before the boil water alert is lifted…
‘Council did a good job’
A boil water alert for parts of Dubbo has angered residents this week, but not everyone is critical of Dubbo Regional Council.
Contaminants were detected in the water supply last Thursday, with council issuing the boil water alert for North, Central and South Dubbo on Monday.
Speaking to the Daily Liberal on Thursday, Grapevine Cafe owner Tim Houghton was glad to see the boil water alert lifted for South and Central Dubbo.
But he didn’t blame council for the contamination, instead saying “they did a good job”.
“For me it wasn’t that big a deal. I just went out and bought bottled water,” he said.
“We bought bottled water in for our customers because we wanted them to feel confident it was safe.
“We knew it wouldn’t last forever.”
Thursday, November 10: Central, South Dubbo cleared
Dubbo Regional Council Director of Technical Services Stewart McLeod advises that the area affected by the Boil Water Notice has been reduced after extensive investigations and testing were carried out to identify and isolate the contamination.
“Council, in consultation with NSW Health, are pleased to say that the reticulated water supply system for South and Central Dubbo can now be declared normal,” Mr McLeod said.
“The Boil Water Notice is still in place for North Dubbo as inspections conducted on Wednesday afternoon at the Myall Street Reservoir discovered evidence of birdlife. Roosting birds and nests in reservoirs are known to cause contamination of this kind.
“For the area served by the Myall Street Reservoir, which is North Dubbo, the Boil Water Notice will remain in place while reservoir cleaning and further sampling are undertaken.
“Staff have been following anti-contamination procedures since last Thursday when the first failed water sample was received, with low levels of E. coli detected,” Mr McLeod said.
“After a second, low level read of E coli came through over the weekend, the same actions were continued and an inspection of the reservoir took place.”
“Further sampling was conducted on Sunday, and a teleconference was held with NSW Health on Monday morning at which a Boil Water Notice was put in place while investigations continued,” Mr McLeod said.
“Although there have been improvements observed overall since testing began, Council will continue to work with NSW Health to ensure the system has returned to normal before the boil water alert is lifted.
“I would like to reiterate that the processes that have been followed by Council during this period reflect the best practice of the industry and will continue to do so, and we appreciate your patience as we work to rectify this situation.”
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