2022 January: Marulan (New South Wales). Taste and Odour, Colour

Marulan presses Goulburn Mulwaree Council to fix water ‘woes’

January 14 2022. https://www.goulburnpost.com.au/story/7579811/dirty-smelly-water-is-making-people-sick-residents-complain/

A Marulan resident is paying up to $50 a week on drinking water to replace what she claims is dirty and smelly flow through household taps.

Kelly Vinken has joined a growing chorus of people complaining about the town’s ‘dirty tap water.’ The single mother of two says more urgent action is needed to fix the problem.

“I’ve been here in Marulan for three years and it’s been bad the whole time,” she said.

“Some days are worse than others. If we have a storm it has a really strong smell like pond water. It’s very distinct, like a mould smell.”

The single mother of two children, aged 11 and 12, said she was spending $30 to $50 a week on water for drinking and cooking from the local supermarket.

“When I first moved here, I drank the tap water and didn’t understand why I felt sick. Then I stopped and felt better straight away.”

People also felt “dirty” after bathing in it and yellow stains were left on baths and showers, she claimed.

However the council’s utilities director, Marina Hollands, said the resource met all Australian drinking water standards for health.

“NSW Health also receives samples from the plant that they analyse independently that meet the Australian drinking water requirements,” she said.

Ms Vinken conceded that some residents did drink the water but it made her family sick. Many new residents were unhappy with the quality and had aired their grievances on social media. She did not understand why the council couldn’t grant rebates on water rates.

“Quite a few people are upset about it, especially those moving into the area who have kids,” she said.

“We all understand about hard water but you can’t drink it. Buying that much water on a single wage is difficult.

“…It’s a basic human right to have decent drinking water, especially in a hot climate.”

Ms Vinken, like others, has taken the matter up with the council. Cr Bob Kirk advised her of plans for an $8 million upgrade of the town’s water treatment plant, due for completion by December, 2023.

He and general manager Warwick Bennett updated the community on this and the $12 million sewage treatment plant upgrade at a Marulan Chamber of Commerce organised meeting on December 18. Some 120 people attended.

Cr Kirk told The Post the water quality issues were not new but there had been renewed criticism and feedback in recent time.

“I thought the message was getting through. We’ve had a lot of information out there,” he said.

Cr Kirk said as staff had stood by the water’s drinking standard, any rebate on charges would require deep consideration. He believed newer residents were the people asking for this.

Mrs Hollands told The Post that residents should contact the council if they had water quality issues.

“We need to know about specific problems in order to address them,” she said in a statement.

“We understand that Marulan residents are frustrated with the current situation, however the council is working towards a long term, robust solution that will deal with the range of issues that could be expected.

“The design works take time and money that we want to have completed correctly. While the approval processes take time, this is important to ensure we can use the experience of government agencies to provide a robust treatment process.”

The town’s water is drawn from a combination of bores and the Wollondiily River. Heavy rainfall has previously discoloured the water and prompted the council to draw mostly from the river.

Mrs Hollands said consultants were refining the concept for the water treatment plant’s upgrade. Each plant was different and had to be specifically designed based on the raw water source. Marulan’s would require a “multi-process approach.”

The council is working through the concept with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and NSW Health. Design will commence upon approval.

“Concurrently, we are looking at short-term components for the upgrade that can be implemented quicker to further enhance the current process and contribute to the plant’s overall upgrade. This is also in progress,” Mrs Hollands said.

“We continue to actively manage the system to optimise the current plant’s performance.”

She rejected the need for refunds or rebates, saying water charges were based on access and usage. On the latter, people only paid for the amount they used.

“The council requires the income generated through water charges to pay for operation of the Marulan water treatment and distribution system to provide water for residents,” she said.

Chamber goes in to bat

Marulan Chamber of Commerce vice-president David Humphreys said the water quality issues stretched back many years to Mulwaree Shire Council days (pre 2004).

“The filtration system has been let go to the end of it’s life and now it’s causing problems,” he said.

“People have been waiting a hell of a long time for a solution to the town’s water and sewer. There will be at least another 50 to 60 homes built in the next 12 to 18 months, most of which will come with families that expect reasonable water quality.”

Mr Humphreys argued one solution was to connect the town with the Highland Source pipeline, which ran from Bowral to Goulburn. This would ultimately save money as the infrastructure required a certain level of flow for its maintenance, he said. Further, it would meet the needs of what the council said was the fastest growing part of the LGA.

Newly elected councillor, Steve Ruddell said he’d spoken to residents about the water and sewer issues before the election.

“I’d like to see it as a priority,” he said.

“In the 21st century we shouldn’t be seeing creamy, black water coming from the taps.”

Meantime, design is also underway on an upgraded sewer treatment plant. The council was working with government agencies to develop a treatment and disposal process for Marulan’s effluent for the next 30 years.