Brown tap water across Western NSW deserves state of emergency response
By Roy Butler and Helen Dalton
The NSW Government must supply and distribute free bottled water across the growing number of rural towns unable to drink their tap water.
It’s only fair government step in to help those enduring third world living conditions, due to government draining of lakes and mismanagement of our river system.
Brown water crisis
The small town of Billmari, near Cowra, is one of several towns where potable water is too dangerous to drink.
Ironically, Billmari is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty of water’.
Menindee now has plenty of brown water coming out of taps. Menindee is where locals begged governments not to drain their lake in 2017, because the lake supplies their drinking water. Governments ignored them.
Residents in Wilcannia, Hay, Cootamundra, Ganmain, Coolah and Yass have also reported foul-tasting tap water to us.
Walgett has faced such severe drinking water restrictions that generous Dubbo residents have supplied them with bottled water via a Facebook campaign.
But why are drought-stricken neighbouring towns carrying the can for the governments who caused this mess?
Last weekend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian went to Coogee Beach. She pledged millions of dollars to clean the beach swimming water there.
It’s now time for Gladys to come out west to help those who can’t even drink the tap water.
State of emergency time
If an oil spill poisoned a river, killing one million fish and robbing towns of their drinking water, the NSW Government would declare a state of emergency.
This would force government agencies to get out to affected areas; and help the many residents who can’t afford expensive bottled water.
Under NSW state law, the Premier can call a state of emergency due to: fire, flood, storm, earthquake, explosion, accident, epidemic or warlike action which endangers people’s health.
This law needs to be changed, to include man-made disasters — like governments draining a town’s supply of drinking water during a drought — in the list of emergencies.
There are several state government departments that administer water, employing thousands of bureaucrats.
Why not get them out to Menindee, Walgett, Billmari and other affected towns, to set up water hubs and to distribute free bottled water?
It’s the least the government could do.
Royal Commission next
We’ve both traveled to third world countries like Papua New Guinea, India and Cambodia. Not being able to drink the tap water was the biggest difference between those places and Australia.
That’s why it’s disgraceful we’ve let things come to this in our regional towns.
Clean drinking water should be the number one priority of any civilised nation, ranking well above Sydney stadiums and beaches.
This is why we urgently need a federal royal commission into how governments manage our rivers.
A royal commission will expose the government’s bad decisions on draining lakes; and flush out wealthy National Party donors who rort the system.
But Royal Commissions can take years, and we have a crisis now.
The state government needs to get cracking. It’s time for immediate state of emergency-style provision of free bottled water to towns like Menindee, Walgett and Billmari, where tap water is too dangerous to drink.
Roy Butler is the SFF candidate for Barwon. Helen Dalton is the SFF candidate for Murray.
Related: Politicians should face criminal charges over million fish kill