2015/21: Yass (New South Wales) – Foul Tasting Water, Colour, Smell, Manganese, Iron, Hardness, Turbidity

Department of Planning delays fixing Yass’ dirty water

aboutregional.com.au Jan 13 2021

Residents in the NSW town of Yass could be waiting for years for a solution to their brown, smelly water, with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment telling the local council it doesn’t support plans for a new water treatment plant.

The silver lining is that the department has backed Yass Valley Council’s proposal to upgrade the existing raw water pump station and install bubble plume aeration at a cost of about $2 million, which will improve the drinking water in the short-term and is due to be completed by January 2022.

However, the department is reluctant to endorse council’s proposal to construct a new water treatment plant or rehabilitate the existing treatment units at a cost of about $31.2 million.

That’s despite former Goulburn MP Pru Goward promising in the lead up to the NSW state election that a new water treatment plant would be funded by the NSW Liberals and Nationals’ $1 billion Safe and Secure Water infrastructure program.

In a statement to Region Media, the department said: “The department is continuing ongoing discussions with Yass Valley Council. The department supports the resolution to progress stage one (raw water pump station upgrade, bubble plume aeration installation and urgent works at the existing water treatment plant) as a priority in advance of finalising discussions on stages two (new water treatment plant) and three (rehabilitation of existing treatment units).

“This includes the development of a detailed business case by the council which includes financial modelling.”

However, that business case won’t be completed by council until a peer review of stages two and three, according to Yass Valley Council’s manager of water and wastewater, Kuga Kugaprasatham. The peer review will begin in January and run until May. The detailed design and business case are then expected to be completed by February 2022.

Council had hired a consultant, Hunter H20, to help with upgrade options for the water treatment plant, and has asked for a peer review of those options to assist its discussions with the department.

Yass Valley Council says “stage one is by no means the solution to the current water quality problems of Yass” and that “a new water treatment plant [is] the council’s preferred option as it addresses the colour, odour and hardness water quality issues.”

Despite all this, the department would not explain to Region Media why it doesn’t support the new water treatment plant.

Residents say they prefer to buy bottled water than drink Yass water. They won’t bathe their children in the water and say it damages appliances including stainless steel kettles.

Bec Smedley lives close to the water treatment plant in Yass and turned on her tap on 28 December, 2020, to find dark brown water ran into her basin.

She says she tried to run her taps as advised by council, but the water colour only worsened.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and the water has always been up and down in quality,” says Bec. “Some days when you turn on the shower, it smells like you’re at the pool and makes you itchy after you dry off.”

Lizzie Stevens has also experienced the water running from a tea colour to dark brown throughout the 11 years and three different houses she’s lived in on the opposite side of Yass. She recently shared a photo of a baby bottle filled with yellow water and says she usually buys water instead of using water from the tap.

“I have four kids aged between 18 months and 11 years old, and it’s worried me with each baby,” she says.

The federal Labor MP for Yass, Kristy McBain, says it’s “abundantly clear” that Yass’ water needs fixing.

Her predecessor, Mike Kelly, also promised to fund the new Yass water treatment plant if Labor had been elected in the federal election.

“I welcome the agreement reached on stage one of the works,” said Ms McBain. “However, we also need to work towards long-term solutions.”

She said she will work with the community, the NSW Government and Yass Valley Council to achieve that solution.

“We would never expect people in our cities to drink brown, smelly water,” said Ms McBain. “The residents of the Yass Valley deserve no less.”

Region Media also contacted state Liberal MP for Yass, Wendy Tuckerman, and is waiting for a response.

Boil Water Alert for residents of Binalong, Bowning and Yass

August 12 2010


Council has said that the Boil Water Alert is likely to be in place for at least one week and could be longer depending on how quickly things settle down after the recent heavy rainfall.

“More rain is predicted at the end of the week and this follow up rain may result in an extension of the Boil Water Alert, depending on its intensity,” a statement issued by the council states.

Acting Director of Infrastructure & Assets, Steven Beasley said that there is no link to the discharge of partially treated effluent from the Lower Molonglo Water Control Centre by ICON Water on Sunday.

“The drinking water supplying the towns of Yass, Bowning, and Binalong is drawn from Yass Dam. The majority of ‘source’ or ‘raw’ water supplies in Australia contain natural levels or organic and inorganic material,” he said.

“The aim of water treatment is to reduce the levels of organic and inorganic material and, in particular, any material associated with pathogens such as protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.

“In the case of Yass, heavy rain caused raw water to become extremely turbid (not clear or transparent because of stirred-up sediment) and compromised the effectiveness of the treatment process.

“Council has a strict water quality management system in place at Yass WTP and turbidity trigger levels were reached, ultimately resulting in the issue of a Boil Water Alert in consultation with NSW Health.”

Residents and businesses will be advised when the boil water notice is lifted through the council’s website, Facebook page, and the local media.

Yass residents call for water charge rebates on ‘swamp-like tap water’


25 May 2019

After months of living with what has been described as “brown, swamp-smelling water”, hundreds of residents from a southern NSW town have called on their local council to rebate water usage and pay for damaged laundry.

A petition by a group called Fix Yass Water, signed by more than 600 Yass residents, has asked for a reduction in water charges and partial refunds for the past six months.

It followed several months of complaints about discoloured water in parts of the town, which the council said had been caused by higher levels of the chemical manganese, in part due to the drought.

Prior to the state election, both sides of government said they would upgrade the Yass water treatment plant, with the Coalition pledging to cover the full cost of the project.

But residents said the solution was not coming quickly enough.

“The worsened water supply has led to damaged appliances, damaged clothing and fabric items and has forced residents to go to the added expense of purchasing water for cooking/drinking or filtration units for homes,” the petition said.

“All of these outcomes, from poor water supply, have had significant financial impact on residents.”

One of the requests from the group was rebates for repairs or replacements to appliances, water filters, damaged clothing and fabrics to be available to residents upon the presentation of receipts.

‘Completely inconsistent’

Resident David Osbourne said the letter was designed to keep the matter front of mind.

“I’ve lived in Yass for about 10 years now and in that time I’ve never drunk the water, but in the past six months we’ve even had trouble even washing our clothes and other people are complaining about the same thing as well,” Mr Osbourne said.

“Our clothes don’t smell like they’re washed when they come out of the machine.”

Mr Osbourne described it as a swamp or creek-water smell.

“It’s completely inconsistent across the town, some people have non-smelly but brown water, other people have both — smelly water and brown water.”

He said people had been advised to run their taps to clear the water, but that led to increased bills.

Some have said their water bills have tripled.

“We want to know what’s available and what can be done, we want to know what we’re legally entitled to,” Mr Osbourne said.

Council consider request

Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey said the council would think about the group’s requests.

“The petition was about trying to get some recompense for things that have got stained in washing or the fact that they’ve had to run their taps longer to try and clear the pipes, so that will be considered in a further report to council,” she said.

The first report to the council on the request said rebates or refunds could not be paid unless the council increased the supply charge.

It was recommended the council reject that idea, because it would affect all users, not just those with discolouration issues.

Cr Abbey said the design and planning for the plant upgrade was “well underway”.

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

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.”

Yass (New South Wales) – Colour

2015/19 Yass Colour 83 Hazen Units (max) Feb 2019

Based on aesthetic considerations, true colour in drinking water should not exceed 15 HU.

“… Colour is generally related to organic content, and while colour derived from natural sources such as humic and fulvic acids is not a health consideration, chlorination of such water can produce a variety of chlorinated organic compounds as by-products (see Section 6.3.2 on disinfection by-products). If the colour is high at the time of disinfection, then the water should be checked for disinfection by-products. It should be noted, however, that low colour at the time of disinfection does not necessarily mean that the concentration of disinfection by-products will be low…

Yass – New South Wales – Hardness

2018: Yass (New South Wales) – Hardness 286.6mg/L (max)


“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.

Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011