2018 August: Delegate (New South Wales). Turbidity, Taste, Chlorine

Where tap water was so dirty even dogs wouldn’t drink it

Bombala was almost the nation’s capital. In 2018, it is battling for clean drinking water.

By Emily Baker

Where else?

Bombala is not the only town within the Snowy Monaro Regional Council’s jurisdiction without clean drinking water. The water supply to Delegate, a town of about 350, was declared unsafe for drinking in 2015 after its chlorination regime was deemed inadequate for controlling disease-carrying micro-organisms.

Delegate General Store owner Irene Butterworth said she now sold six 15-litre containers of water each week and had “lost count” of her four and 10-litre sales.

Delegate Cafe uses rainwater in its coffee machines; elsewhere, filters are employed. Owner Uland Sievert said each filter was replaced three times last year.

Nicole Mellon was shocked to learn she couldn’t drink water from her tap when she moved to Delegate from Jervis Bay. Her cat fell ill with a kidney infection soon after her family moved to the town. The vet said it was unrelated to the water, but she’s not so sure.

Ms Mellon’s baths run brown and her shower smells like dirt. When she doesn’t cook with bottled water her food tastes like chemicals, she said. And, as in Bombala, her white washing often stains brown.

“I’m so frustrated – it’s a frustrating feeling being charged for water when we’re not able to use it, drink it,” Ms Mellon said.

“I think the council needs to listen to the people of Delegate because Delegate gets left out of everything.”

Delegate was well-represented at the public meeting organised by Ms Gimbert, as was nearby Nimmitabel. Between 200 and 300 people attended the event.

Delegate was told it would have potable water within a year.


Bombala was once touted as a possible site for the nation’s capital. At least the water now mostly seems clean. But some residents still don’t trust the supply, which sometimes runs brown when taps are first turned on.

The federal government’s Australian Drinking Water Guidelines suggest drinking water should be aesthetically pleasing in appearance, taste and odour.

” … ultimately it is consumers who will be the final judges of water quality,” the 1167-page document said.

“System operators must maintain a personal sense of responsibility and dedication to providing consumers with safe water, and should never ignore a consumer complaint about water quality.”

People within the Snowy Monaro Regional Council district have until August 14 to send in a submission on whether Bombala residents should receive a $1.56 per kilolitre rebate due to “water quality issues”. Otherwise, their water rates will be upped to more than $3 per kilolitre.

Ms Dracopoulos, who has kept “Tap water (brown)” on the menu at her business, Cosmo Cafe, has considered taking the council to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

“They’re a corporation who will not accept responsibility for their services,” she said.

“If I gave you a bad hamburger in the shop, I would have to acknowledge that somewhere along the line there was a fault. I’d investigate it, look at it and go yep, we’ve done something wrong. I’d refund it or there’d be some sort of compensation.

“I can’t believe the mentality, more than anything. I know this council didn’t create the problem but guess what? They’ve adopted it, and they’ve adopted us, and they’re stuck with it.

“Do something. Fix it.”