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.
Yass water is dirty and smelly, but is it making people sick?
Feb 5 2019
Yass resident Sarah Hodgson said the town’s dirty and smelly water could be behind a recent bout of giardia suffered by her husband and children.
Discoloured and foul-smelling water in the regional New South Wales town, an hour outside of Canberra, has been an ongoing problem for years, but officials and health professionals maintain the water is safe to drink.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing from people or the Council say that the water is safe to drink, when that is not the case,” Ms Hodgson told ABC Radio Canberra.
“Animals won’t drink it.”
Ms Hodgson said she and her family did not drink the water, but they bathed in it and brushed their teeth with it.
“Obviously that’s where this bug has got through and made my family sick,” she said.
“So my issue with the water [is] yes, there’s ways to have healthy drinking water — however there is no way, that we can see, to protect my kids from getting sick.
“It’s something that I’m now going to have to plan time off work for this sort of issue to keep occurring.”
‘Colour ranging from urine to brown’
The “dirty little secret” plaguing the town has sparked a Facebook complaint group, a crowdfunding account and now, a song.
Local musician Daniel Kelly took to YouTube to vent his watery woes.
As Kelly sang, “the smell’s hard to define, between mouldy socks and slime.”
Kelly also said the water could “make your stomach turn” and was “not fit to bathe your kids”.
Is the water in Yass making people sick?
The foul smell from the taps in Yass has driven some people to source water directly from Canberra, while mains filters have been suggested by others as a potential solution.
Yass GP Doctor Ray Burn said he had not treated anyone he believed had contracted an illness from drinking local water.
“I don’t think it’s dangerous,” he said.
“Anything with a suspicious taste or colour — we’ll blame everything on it.”
However, he said he was sympathetic with residents fed up with the condition of the water.
“A lot of people bring their own water into town for work, from the tank at home,” he said.
“The Council does a good job in purification but you can’t always ensure it will look and taste good.”
The latest report on the Yass, Binalong and Bowning water supply system, posted on January 30, showed the water was meeting the required health guidelines for chlorine, E.coli and manganese.
But it failed on two points related to the aesthetics of the water: colour and manganese.
Councillor Jasmin Jones posted to Facebook on Sunday reassuring residents the water was safe to drink.
“I’m in the same boat as you when it comes to the water — I’m drinking it, I’m bathing in it, I’m using it for my cooking,” she said.
“While it doesn’t taste great at the moment, the water is turning over, and there’s levels of manganese that make it taste awful.
“It’s a nuisance and a problem for our businesses needing softer water for their machinery.”
Clear water would cost Yass households $235 annually for 20 years
The quality of the town’s water became particularly bad due to a combination of hot weather and limited rainfall over an extended period.
It caused excessive levels of manganese and iron elements, leading to water discolouration and an unpleasant smell, a statement from Yass Valley Council said.
Mayor Rowena Abbey said the town did not have the money for a new water filtration plant, which would cost $11 million.
In 2013, the council raised the Yass Dam by 3 metres to the tune of $22 million.
It was a move aimed at increasing the dam’s service capacity from 7,500 people to 15,000, but it did not improve the water’s appearance and taste.
The mayor said it had been a “difficult decision” to choose security over quality.
“If Council had made the decision to address water quality, instead of water security, we may presently have better tasting water, but we would also be experiencing severe water restrictions like our neighbouring local government areas,” she said.
If the $11 million could not be sourced, she said, a loan would cost ratepayers about $235 per year for every household with a water collection, for 20 years.
“Yes, the water gets tested regularly but unfortunately the smell and the colour are — certainly in parts of Yass — a problem for Yass Council at the moment,” she said.
“It doesn’t look very appealing to drink and it doesn’t smell appealing.”
Yass calling for funding help from federal, state governments
The Council does not want to slug ratepayers with the cost of the new filtration plant and has applied for a number of grants to seek funding to foot the bill.
Instead, they hoped to compel candidates competing in upcoming state and federal elections to commit to a solution, the mayor said.
“Having a prolonged drought doesn’t help either,” she said.
“The problem is a the cost — some people say that ‘well, some people can afford it’.
“But not everybody. And that wouldn’t be fair. Clean water should be for everybody, not just those who can afford it.”