Feb 7 2022: Carrathool (NSW). Bottled Water for Schools

Almost 50 NSW schools relying on bottled drinking water, education department confirms

Feb 7 2022

Nearly 50 public schools in New South Wales are relying on deliveries of bottled water, it has been revealed.

The issue was raised by NSW Labor during budget estimates late last year when the Department of Education provided a list of 46 schools that could not access safe drinking water via other sources.

The list included schools in the New England, Central West, Riverina, Coffs Harbour and Newcastle regions.

The Department of Education confirmed there were 47 schools — one more than was listed in the report — requiring bottled water.

Opposition Education spokeswoman Prue Car said the situation was “concerning”.

“We’ve got more than 40 schools across the state that are relying on bottled water because they don’t have permanent access to safe drinking water,” she said.

“While we accept there are water access challenges, particularly across regional NSW, we are worried this could have impacts on children.”

Limited options

The principal of Carrathool Public School in the western Riverina, Mary-Ann Headon, said large bottles of water were delivered more than 200 kilometres from Wagga Wagga to the school, which had five students.

“This started before I arrived here five years ago, but the department deemed that the water, the potable water that comes from a water tank or some other source that’s not filtered, may not be suitable for drinking,” she said.

“There is bore water available, but some also buy the bottled water, particularly if they don’t like the taste of the bore water.”

Ms Headon said the school had a rainwater tank, but the education department deemed it, and the bore water supply, unsuitable for students to drink.

“I would not particularly like to drink the rainwater around here, simply because of the amount of pollutants that are sprayed,” she said.

“We have a safe water supply as it is, so changing back to the rainwater seems a bit unnecessary.”

Ms Headon said the process of getting water delivered was “really quite easy from our end”.

“I think the education department is doing a really good job providing us a safe water source,” she said.

“I know [council staff] monitor the water quality, but for a town of our size I don’t think it’s overly feasible getting water from the river and treating that.”

Basic amenity’

Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW Riverina representative Saba Nabi said she was “surprised” by the situation.

“In this day and age, I feel that all schools in NSW should have access to potable water irrespective of their location,” she said.

“I mean, this is a basic amenity and I understand and I feel for the schools and the kids.

“I really wish that the department [would come] up with a very permanent solution to something very alarming.”

A NSW Department of Education spokesperson said in some schools access to potable water “was not possible”.

“In these instances the department supplies them with access to safe drinking water,” they said.

“The department currently supplies 47 NSW public schools with bottled water.

“Bottled water may be supplied at schools based on individual circumstances.