2013-20: Uralla (NSW) – Arsenic, Turbidity, Taste & Odour, Manganese

Uralla (New South Wales) – Arsenic

December 2019: Uralla (NSW) Arsenic 0.04-0.05mg/L.

Highest raw water detection: 19/12/19 0.122mg/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

New South Wales town moves to bottled water after arsenic found in water supply (Dec 18 2019)


Residents of a rural New South Wales town have been told to stop drinking its water after high levels of arsenic were detected in its water supply.
Uralla Council, in the state’s Northern Tableland region, says the level of poison that has been detected is above Australian Drinking Water Guidelines of 0.01 milligrams per litre.
The current readings in Uralla are between 0.04 and 0.05 milligrams per litre.
Arsenic can cause acute gastrointestinal and neurological issues. It has also been linked to skin discoloration and the development of several types of cancer.
The situation is so dire that boiling the water will not make it safe to drink, and bottled water
should be used for drinking, food preparing, making ice, cleaning teeth and gargling.
“Over the past couple of days there has been some elevated levels of arsenic in Uralla’s water supply,” Uralla Councillor Michael Pearce said.
“NSW Health has allocated bottled water to town. We want to let people know that the water is safe to wash, bath but don’t drink the water… we are modifying our treatment works to attempt to elevate the arsenic issue at our water works.”

Uralla Shire Council has received a number of complaints from resident who say their water is brown and tastes muddy


March 22 2018

Since March 8, Uralla’s town water has poured a distinct shade of brown, and residents say the taste isn’t great either.

And, Uralla Shire Council has earned itself a big thumbs down on popular Facebook page, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down Armidale.

Resident Kel Risk said she only drinks bottled water because of the poor quality.

“[I] can’t go back to that horrid taste,” she said.

Others commented that the water tasted like dirt, and smells bad after boiling and filtering.

They also said council had not advised residents about the issue.​

The muddled water is the result of a heavy rain spell in the upper part of the Kentucky Creek catchment.

A warm dry spell that hit the area soon after resulted in increased algae in the dam.

Buckets of complaints about water turning residents pail have been received since March 8.

“These events triggered a change in the taste of Uralla’s drinking water,” the spokesman said.

“Residents are reporting this change in taste pointing in particular to an ‘earthy’ or ‘muddy’ taste.”

But, council maintains while the drop isn’t as delicious, the water is safe to drink.

Council operators have increased the dosing levels of a charcoal based product at the water treatment plant to bring the flavour back to normal.

“It appears that issues with taste are not consistent across the supply network,” the spokesman said.

“Some residents are experiencing poor taste while others are not.”

This is because pockets of water in the network need to be flushed out, and council is flushing the network to remove the remnants of dirty water.

Council asks residents to contact them directly if running the tap for five minutes doesn’t fix the problem and supply lines to the house will be flushed.

People who have had their supply line flushed should run the tap for five minutes to ensure the line has been refreshed and contact council again if this doesn’t fix the problem.

‘Do not drink’: The NSW town with no tap water for four months

Feb 23 2020


Jenny Evans had been sick in bed for weeks, watching the country die outside her window. “All I could see was smoke,” she says. “Not a blade of grass in sight. No insects.” It was December, and things had been the same for months.

Then Ms Evans learnt she could no longer drink the tap water in her own house.

“It’s been like a death by cancer: a long, slow depletion of everything … and then suddenly, you get this email that says, ‘You can’t drink the water as of today,’ ” she says. “It was just so matter of fact.”

After enduring months of drought and hazardous smoke from nearby bushfires (and with “day zero” approaching), the 2743 residents of Uralla, near Armidale in the NSW Northern Tablelands, were told there was an increased level of arsenic detected in what remained of the town’s water supply, which comes from the Kentucky Dam.

At the time, local MP and NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said “the best case scenario is that residents will be on bottled water for days, the worse case scenario, weeks – this is not going to be something that is long-term”.

But Uralla is still on bottled water. Recent rain has filled the dam to capacity, but residents have been told the “do not drink” alert will be in place until at least mid-April. That will be four months in total.

In the town, people feel they’ve been kept in the dark about these delays. Many say they don’t understand what the council has been doing.

“This town is dying,” says interior designer Lisa Kelaher, who runs a small store in Uralla. “The tourism has stopped. This town doesn’t deserve this. This is about water. If we don’t have water, we can’t survive.”

Uralla residents were initially told “significant progress” had been made to reduce arsenic levels. Then the mayor, Michael Pearce, announced he was looking at getting a $500,000 carbon filtration system put in place “within the next two weeks”.

Later that week, on January 16, Uralla Shire Council’s acting manager David Aber apologised to the community and announced the “do not drink” alert would be in place for at least the next 100 days to allow for installation of “a granulated activated carbon filter” and testing.

More than a month later – two months after the original alert – Mr Marshall told local media he had not received any application for funding of the filter. “I’m as frustrated as anyone,” he said.

On Thursday, The Sun-Herald requested an interview with Mr Aber. That afternoon, he lodged a request for funding. Mr Marshall, who was also approached for an interview, announced the news on Friday, with the cost estimated at $835,000.

“It’s a huge relief that I have finally been able to present a fully-costed proposal to the Water Minister [Melinda Pavey] for consideration,” he said.

“This issue has been going on way too long to the point where it’s having a damaging impact on Uralla’s economy and the wellbeing of residents.”

It’s not uncommon for some arsenic to be found in water, but prolonged exposure to higher levels in drinking water and food can cause skin lesions and cancer. The levels of 0.04 to 0.05 milligrams a litre were up to five times the 0.01 mg/L advised by the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Residents have been able to use tap water to bathe and wash clothes. Bottled water was made available for free pick-up at local stores at a reported expense of $5000 a day to the government.

Still, many locals say confusion has reigned. One restaurant owner said that, one day after the “do not drink” alert was issued, they were told the water was fine for customers to consume in coffee and post-mix.

Mr Aber said he was advised by the state government there was no issue with consuming the levels of arsenic in a cup of coffee from the shop. “I relayed the information I’d been given at the time,” he said. “That was revoked two days later, which was unfortunate for me.”

Major businesses ended up independently hooking their coffee and post-mix systems to bottled water.

Mr Aber said the delay in applying for funding for the filter was caused by a change in plan.

“Originally we were looking at [acquiring] a bank of filters, which is like a series of pods … [then] our people worked out that it was probably better to put the granulated activated carbon directly into our filters,” he said.

“So we abandoned that idea, and then moved back to redesigning it and upgrading the filter system. It’s been quite a journey.”

Mr Aber admitted there had been “a few cranky buggers around in the background, but the patience of the community has been fantastic”. He said some residents, often older farmers, have told him they weren’t too fazed and kept drinking the town water. He occasionally drinks from the tap too.

Uralla residents now have their eyes fixed on the future. Ms Kelahar said the ordeal was proof more transparency in water management was needed, especially in drought-stricken regions.

“It’s OK to say ‘We’ve got people working on it’, but show us. Show us,” she said.

Ms Kelahar and Ms Evans pointed out there were many remote Indigenous communities that don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Ms Evans said she hoped local representatives would plan better and communicate more clearly with residents. “It’s a very big wake-up call,” she said. “And we are awake.”

2013/19 – Uralla (New South Wales) – Manganese

2013/19 – Uralla (New South Wales) – Manganese 0.49mg/L (high), av. 0.0701mg/L (mean)

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