2018 January: Coober Pedy (South Australia). Chlorine, Taste and Odour


Jan 19 2018 (Coober Pedy Times)

Coober Pedy residents complaining of both stagnant-smelling and over-chlorinated tap water since the weekend of 6/7 January 2017 have taken to testing their own water before letting their children near it or using it themselves, and alternatively buying commercial drinking water from a number of the town’s retail outlets.People have complained of sore eyes, skin rashes, a strange cough and even chest pains, coinciding with the strong smell of chlorine coming out of the taps at Coober Pedy on alternate days for nearly three weeks now. With South Australia in the grip of a serious heat wave Coober Pedy parents have becoming more vocal.

Amongst the countless complaints, one mother said: “My son was playing in water today and said his eyes were stinging. That’s from tap water… seriously something isn’t right.”

Another mother messaged the Coober Pedy Regional Times on Thursday night saying: “Midnight, I was off to bed, thought about having some water, had to spit it out, smelt and tasted like pool water. No we are not imagining things… so upsetting!!! I don’t know who to contact and complain…”

Since the weekend of the 6 & 7 January local residents believe that batches of possibly untreated bore water have been pumped through the town water pipes, then later in the day another batch that is heavily chlorinated. Residents say there has been no notification that the water pipes were being flushed due to a contamination. In fact, the exact opposite.

To date council has vigorously defended any suggestions of poor management of the town’s water supply and claims to have high standard, independent water results, that to date, they have declined to publish.   Instead suggesting that residents should all go into the council office and see them. In this heat most of the community would consider that to be a backhanded invitation!

Residents would prefer to have dedicated oversight from SA Water for safety reasons during this difficult period where it is now believed that staff numbers have been reduced to one or possibly two to run both the Desalination Plant and the Sewerage Treatment Plant

Owner operator of a local tour company tested his tap water on Thursday and found the levels of chlorine to be above average for a regular swimming pool. Resident said, “We did a reading today when the water started smelling and it registered at 2.0 -5.0 ppm. The average across Australia seems to be 0.5-1.5 ppm”

“We also did a “Control” experiment with bottled water to show our tests weren’t incorrect. The bottled water tests returned clear ie no chlorine.”

Local resident and father of three small children under 5 years old Jason Wright sent his chlorine test results into the Coober Pedy Regional Times on Thursday saying, “If anyone tries to tell you there is low chlorine in our drinking water then show them this. Testing 2.2ppm. That was today [Thursday] at approximately 5pm. Ideal for a swimming pool. How many people do you know that get a glass of water from their pool when they’re thirsty? I suspect it would have tested higher yesterday [Wednesday] when it stunk.”

Another resident who tested tap water in Hutchison Street also on Thursday said, “For swimming pools the ideal range is 1 – 1.5. As you can see the reading is above 5”.

A new Facebook group has appeared this week called Coober Pedy’s Water Supply. People have been invited to join.  In one day they have accumulated over 120 members.

People say they are contacting Local Member for Giles, Eddie Hughes MP to register their fears and concerns with Coober Pedy’s current water quality.

Local member Eddie Hughes said he contacted the Ministers office last week to discuss Coober Pedy’s water supply issue and he has also spoken to the council and to Acting Water Supply Manager Colin Pitman.

“I have been provided with independent water testing results from an accredited organisation.”

“At the time of testing the water samples met all of the necessary standards.”

“Subsequent to that over the last couple of days a number of people have contacted me to voice concerns about the water.”

“It is interesting to note that one of those persons had initially said the water was fine and then the following day contacted me and expressed concerns at the apparent level of chlorination.”

“I will continue to speak with the council and the water supply facility and I will also contact once again the relevant minister’s office.”

“It’s important that the residents in Coober Pedy have confidence in their water supply.”

“I have spoken to council and they have indicated in this financial year there is going to be significant investment in the water supply facility in order to address maintenance and refurbishment.”

“I will work with all elements of the Coober Pedy community to ensure that we get an outcome that satisfies everyone,” concluded Mr. Hughes.

On Christmas Day 25-12-2017 The Coober Pedy Regional Times published news of the resignations of the entire Water Supply Department with fears already mounting for the future quality of an essential service for a town in the desert.

The word on the street at the time alluded to workplace bullying and oppression followed by despondent workers. Another reason rumoured for the resignations was the workers growing lack of confidence in the council’s ability to manage the town and its services.

The key points in dispute that triggered the industrial strike of a few weeks before are as follows:

  • Attempts by management to strip terms and conditions from the Enterprise Agreement and split the workforce onto two separate Agreements;
  • Attempts by managements to make drastic changes to Council policies to the detriment of the workforce;
  • A culture of bullying perpetrated by management;
  • The removal of vehicles from on-call operators;
  • Management’s decision to hire more management employees but refuse to fill vacant positions of workers who have left the Council, purportedly on the basis that the Council does not have enough funds.

27 December 2017 the current council CEO Ms Fiona Hogan defended the competency of council to manage the town’s water supply saying, “The council would like to advise that the council retains highly skilled and qualified staff who will continue to run both the potable drinking water system and the Waste water treatment plant to produce high quality drinking water and professionally treated waste water.

“These staff are highly skilled in water management and are retained by the council from within the existing staff contingent.”

“The council has also sourced skills from within the community to assist in the pipe network security and have retained in house and independent highly skilled advisors on the management of Reverse osmosis and Waste water treatment systems to assist with the treatment plant operation.”

2nd January after continuing complaints about the inconsistent water quality, the CEO Ms Hogan had another stab at pacifying the community, pretty much implying that the community were imagining the smell of chlorine. Hogan says, “The quality of the water will continue to meet the highest of standards and the community can be assured with the sophisticated management systems proposed that quality control will continue to be the best in the state exceeding SA Water metropolitan standards but with a more fail safe less manual system.

By Wednesday 10 January it seemed fairly clear to those with good sensory faculties that we had potentially stagnant water coming out of our taps. On this day, the water smelled putrid and a local resident tested the chlorine levels with a pool testing kit and said that ZERO chlorine registered that morning!  Later in the same day the tap water smelled strongly of chlorine.

Currently the stench of chlorine in most sections of town is still the dominant factor. According to residents own test results the drinking water contains more chlorine than a regular swimming pool needs.

The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines require that the level of chlorine in drinking water should not exceed 5 milligrams per litre (5 parts per million). This would be the exception rather than the rule and undoubtedly exists to protect instances of negligence or accident.  Nobody would knowingly subject themselves or their children to those levels of chlorine on a regular basis especially in drinking water!

Residents of Coober Pedy say they will continue to purchase water from a trusted source until such time as the quality of water improves to the previous high standard.

AT A FEW MINUTES TO 5pm Friday 19-1-2018, the Council’s reason for heavily chlorinated water arrived online at Facebook. There was no comment or an apology for the water that smelt stagnant.

“Water Update: We now advise chlorine levels have returned to a normal level in a result of the bacteria levels being bought back to zero.”

LAST BUT NOT LEAST is the word from a resident or client who says, “I wish Council had advised us that chlorine levels were not normal before telling us that they are back to normal.

One wonders if they can do the correct dosing.

Surely previous water teams have encountered bacterial events but we have never had heavily chlorinated water…”

To be continued…….!

Margaret Mackay
Editor Coober Pedy Regional Times