February 19 2023: Winkie (South Australia) – Colour, Taste & Odour

Community calls for irrigation investment to better prevent poor-quality Murray River water


A Riverland politician and a local irrigation body are calling for investments from the South Australian government to help prevent poor water quality documented throughout the 2022–23 floods.

As the Murray River spread onto flood plains it collected debris and organic matter, impacting the quality for those connected to irrigation water.

Winkie resident Vanessa Weidenhofer has irrigation water at her rental home, which is usually used for drinking, bathing and gardening.

But due to concerns around the water quality, she’s been relying on rainwater for the past two months.

“It’s horrible and we haven’t been able to shower actually. We’ve been going to friends’ houses,” she said.

“It really feels unsafe and unhealthy to be showering in it, and it kind of hurts because it feels like there’s sand or mud in your water.

“We can’t really drink the irrigation water. I wouldn’t.”

Ms Weidenhofer said the discoloured water has impacted her.

She said a bath for a toddler she was babysitting was made a lot more difficult due to the state of the water.

“I went to run the tap in the bath and it started coming out red-brown like clay, it was disgusting,” she said.

“So, I drained the bath and started filling it up with hot pots of rainwater.

“I wouldn’t be bathing or showering children in this kind of water unless people had a permanent filter right next to their house.”

Murky waters

Local member for Chaffey Tim Whetstone said while a decline in water quality could be expected during floods, it was “taking a toll” on irrigators and outlying communities not connected to town water.

He wants a state government investment to improve water quality.

“I think there is a role for the government to play to incentivise people to install rainwater tanks, storage and filtration,” he said.

“That might be some form of a sweetener when going out into the marketplace, so they can be a little bit more self-sufficient in a time when we have either a flood or a high-flow event.”

The Renmark Irrigation Trust (RIT) said at its main pump station, existing filter infrastructure can clog up quickly with organic matter during times of flood.

Currently, 10mm fish exclusion screens are in place which chief executive officer Rosalie Auricht said was dangerous to clean during peak flows.

She said the RIT was interested in modern, 2-3mm self-cleaning fish screens, which would likely cost more than $1 million.

“If we could get it, the environment would benefit because the juvenile fish stay in the river system, and the irrigation community would benefit because there would be less organic matter coming through the pipe system,” she said.

“It would be very expensive for us to do it. However, the government has contributed to these programs in the northern basin … [where] at least $26 million was made available for fish screens.

“I’d love to see something like that made available to people in South Australia.”

SA Water Minister Susan Close has been contacted for comment.