The Aussie towns without clean water to drink and shower in (March 26 2019)
When you turn on the tap in Louth what comes out looks like something you might see in a third world country, not rural NSW.
“The water is muddy and brown and it stinks. I usually describe it as smelling like rotten eggs,”
Jasmine Kew, who lives and works at the pub in the tiny town, west of Bourne, told nine.com.au.
The water is drawn from a stagnant pool of the Darling River, which stopped flowing months ago, and where the government in December identified toxic levels of blue-green algae.
But with supplies from rainwater tanks dwindling, the town’s 35 or so residents have little choice but to shower in the stuff and wash their clothes with it.
“You just feel even dirtier than when you got in the shower. I have been getting rashes on me. I usually start itching when I get in the shower,” Ms Kew, 22, said.
“And I can’t wash my hair in the water because it is so dirty.”
At Louth’s pub, called Shindy’s Inn, bottled drinking water is trucked in and the precious rainwater is used to make ice, cook with and wash the beer glasses.
“The water is not safe to drink. I wouldn’t drink it. I tell people that stay here in our cabins not to drink it and I give them bottled water,” owner Kathy Barnes said.
Walkley Award winning photographer Jenny Evans travelled up from Sydney and stayed at Shindy’s Inn over summer in January.
“Unless you go there you can’t understand what these people are truly going through,” she said.
“My husband and I were in Louth for three or four days. When we arrived it was one of those days where it was 40-50 degrees and I said, ‘I’m just going to pop in and have a shower’.
Everyone laughed and I didn’t know why.
“But then I turned the tap on and it was disgusting. It was this putrid brown, and boiling hot.”
“I’m a city girl born and bred. I had no idea. I was really shocked. Can you imagine someone from Sydney turning on a tap and the same disgusting brown water coming out, and then getting told it may also be toxic?”
In January, the mass fish kill at Menindee near Broken Hill, which saw up to a million fish die from an algal bloom, made international headlines and put a national spotlight on the state of the once mighty Darling River.
NSW is suffering from its worst drought on record, but the state and federal governments are also facing growing claims the environmental disaster is a result of man-made water mismanagement.
Louth is just one of the small towns and vast farming properties dotted along the Lower Darling River affected by toxic algae and chronic water shortages. Here locals say their basic needs for drinking and showering water are not being met.
About 100km downstream from Louth in Tilpa, the Darling River is also bone dry.
The town gets its water pumped from a weir 5km up the river where some dregs remain.
Without rain, Tilpa locals estimate they have just two to three weeks left before their taps run dry.
Tilpa Hotel manager Sharon Mahoney may soon have no pub to run.
“Once the water supply is gone it will be all over. You can’t run a pub without water because you have got no water to flush the toilets, no showers or anything.”
In the meantime, the town water in Tilpa, which is currently on an orange alert level for blue-green algae, is not fit for human consumption, Ms Mahoney said.
“We have got three lots of filters and an ultra-red violet light that the water goes through before it comes here but it’s still cloudy as it comes out. If you run a bath it’s brown,” she said.
“No, you couldn’t drink it, it has an odour to it. I won’t even brush my teeth in it. I brush my teeth with bottled water.”
A recent trip from Tilpa to Sydney, provided a stark and almost novel comparison, Ms Mahoney said.
“We have got a son in Sydney and we were just there and it was quite strange actually just drinking the water out of the tap. We found that really weird.”
Chrissy and Bill Ashby own a third-generation cattle property Trevallyn, between Menindee and Bourke.
The property sits on 65km of river frontage, which for the past four months has been on the highest level of algae alert after the water turned a fluorescent shade of green.
For months, the couple have been drinking bottled water bought by crowdfunders.
Unable to shower using river water, the Ashbys used rainwater supplies until they became critically low. They then bought a truckload of water, with the local Central Darling Shire Council contributing the cost of the freight.
Mr Ashby said the condition of the river on his property was soul destroying.
“The water has got a real smell to it at the minute. It’s just the algae dying and fish dying in it and all of that. It’s not good.”
Everyone in the area was suffering and the provision of safe drinking and showering water should be a basic right, he said.
“I call it an essential service really. What we live off here is the river. And if there is no water left here, or the water that is left in there is disgusting and you can’t use it, then there is something seriously wrong.”
Mr Ashby said he believed things really went downhill for the Murray Darling river system in 2012, when the state government changed the water-sharing plan to allow irrigators to pump even during low-flow periods.
“You need those medium-to-low flows to continue on down the river for stock, domestic townships and for the environment,” he said.
Over the weekend, anger over the government’s water management played out at the polls in the state election.
The vast sprawling seat of Barwon, which is almost the same size of Germany, had been held by the Nationals since 1950, but was one of four NSW seats lost by the Coalition on election day.
Roy Butler, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, won the seat in a massive swing and has vowed to push for the implementation of a 10-point strategy for the Murray-Darling River he has developed.
Chrissy Ashby said the election result was a direct message to the government that it needed to do better.
“I think the National Party completely underestimated the minority people out here and the voice that we could have,” Mrs Ashby said.
“The fish kill in Menindee, although it was horrendous, definitely highlighted to Australia and the world what we have been trying to voice for quite some time.”