2019/20: Billimari (New South Wales). Uranium, Foul Tasting Water

Billimari residents at boiling point after elevated uranium levels found in water

Non-Potable Supply

Feb 6 2020


Billimari residents have raised concerns following the discovery of elevated levels of naturally occurring uranium in the village’s bore water supply.

Detections of elevated levels were first identified in December and additional samples were sent for confirmation testing.

Results in January confirmed that the levels are above the guideline value recommend in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for chemical toxicity, but it is below the level recommended for radiological toxicity. [level for drinking water is 0.017mg/L, radiological 0.5 Bq/L]

Cowra Council released a statement on Monday reminding residents the non-potable water was still unsafe for human consumption, however animals could still drink the water.

“Consumers are advised to not drink the water, or prepare food, freeze it for ice, clean their teeth or gargle with the water. The water can continue to be used for other household and external uses,” Director of Infrastructure and Operations, Dirk Wymer said.

“Boiling the water or filtering it will not make it safe to drink.

“The uranium level is below the toxicity guideline level recommended for stock water in the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality, and is therefore considered safe for animal consumption.” [level for stock water is 0.2mg/L]

This however has not sat well with residents like Becky Thornberry, who finds it hard to believe the water is safe for her dogs.

“I’ve got a little Dachshund, if it affects my body, how is it not going to affect her tiny body?” she said.

Ms Thornberry, who has lived in the area for two and a half years, said she was also unaware that boiling the water did not make it safe.

“I’ve been having cups of teas since I’ve been out here,” she said.

“Some days we’ve come home and the water is brown, it’s just brown, it stinks some days, you can’t even shower in it.

“It’s more than just you can’t drink it, it’s the colour, the smell, it’s everything.”

She puts it down to a lack of communication from council.

“They didn’t have signs up when we first moved out, then a few months later, they put them up, but we didn’t get any notice or anything in the mail,” she said.

“They did have a meeting last year about it with (Cowra Mayor, Councillor) Bill West but nothing come out of it.

“They put a notice in my door and that’s it, they don’t care. As long as they inform people that’s all they’ve really got to do.”

According to Cr West, “Council is working to replace the current bore with an alternative bore as soon as possible but want to first make sure it meets all regulatory approvals”.

While many residents use tank water, Ms Thornberry said they are frustrated at the water rates, especially when she must buy bottled water each week in Cowra.

“We don’t get any compensation, we still have to pay the full rate that people pay in town and they can drink it,” she said.

“I know it’s not a great big deal considering we are in a drought, but there’s been nothing offered to us.”

She suggested council place a water station or utilise a tanker to transport fresh water to Billimari on a regular basis.

“Canowindra’s got the water stations, I can’t see why they can’t put a tank up in Billimari or just have a tanker of fresh water, anyone who wants to fill up tanks, you could fill up a shuttle and that would last a couple of weeks,” Ms Thornberry said.

According to council, “the quality of the supply will continue to be closely monitored by Council and other authorities with advice and updates to be provided to Billimari residents when received”.

For further information regarding the non-potable water supply, please contact Council’s Director of Infrastructure and Operations, Dirk Wymer on (02) 6340 2070.

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 Billimari, near Cowra, is one of several towns where potable water is too dangerous to drink.

Ironically, Billimari 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, Billimari 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