..

The Conversation

  • Written by Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

Many Australians take it for granted we can drink untreated tap water, without worrying about the health effects.

However, a recent audit criticised the regulation of pollution in the massive Warragamba Dam drinking water catchment, the biggest single metropolitan water reservoir in Australia.

Read more: Why does some tap water taste weird?

The Auditor-General’s report found that the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not effectively regulating water pollution in drinking water catchments. The report mentioned WaterNSW, which is the authority that supplies the majority of Sydney’s water needs. The report concluded that responsible bodies like the EPA and WaterNSW need to work together more effectively to protect Sydney’s water from pollution.

Problems in the Warragamba Dam, which is surely the most regulated and monitored water supply in the country, raise the issue of regional water quality.

Sydney’s salinity is rising

The audit was triggered by an independent triennial review of Sydney’s water supply (in which I participated), which was completed last year.

One of the issues we identified was rising salinity in Warragamba Dam. Although Sydney’s water supply has relatively low salinity by Australian standards, the level in Warragamba Dam (measured as electrical conductivity) was about twice that of other, smaller storages.

when Australian water goes bad Median results from storage reservoir sampling sites collected over the 2013-16 review period. Red bar indicates median value was above the audit guideline. Sydney Drinking Water Catchment Audit 2013-2016

Coal mines in the Warragamba catchment are a major source of salinity. The Springvale mine is the largest, and it disposes a large volume of wastewater to the catchment. I have been very concerned about the impact of this coal mine discharge on water quality for many years.

Read more: Is your drinking water safe? Here's how you can find out

The Springvale mine’s current discharge licence permits more than 10 Olympic swimming pools of saline waste water to be released daily into the Warragamba catchment. The waste water from Springvale has a salinity level eight times higher than that of Warragamba Dam.

Regional water problems

If pollution is allowed in such an important water supply, what is happening to your local water supply?

Read more: We asked five experts: do I have to drink eight glasses of water per day?

Currently there are several water supplies in Tasmania that have “boil water” alerts. Boil water alerts indicate that harmful pathogens could be present in the water supply, and it should be boiled for at least a minute before drinking.

In some communities in Western Australia the water supply is tainted by contamination that is not managed by simply boiling it. High nitrate levels in tap water have been reported from some communities, such as Meekatharra, a small township 700km northeast of Perth that relies on groundwater.

High levels of nitrates in the water cannot be easily treated, and are particularly dangerous for infants. When drunk by babies it can affect their blood oxygen levels and cause a disease called blue baby syndrome. Western Australia’s Water Corporation recommends that babies under three months do not consume the water, and bottled water is recommended for young babies.

Water in Katherine, in the Northern Territory, has been contaminated by toxic and persistent chemicals used in firefighting foam. The toxins have accumulated in the groundwater. Many other communities across Australia have also been similarly affected.

Uranium has also been reported in some remote community water supplies from the Northern Territory. Alarmingly, uranium levels were above Australian drinking water guidelines, and there are no clear guidelines for managing the problem.

These examples from regional communities reinforce the importance of preventing contamination from entering water supplies.

It is worth remembering that 20 years ago protozoan pathogens from the Warragamba supply resulted in several boil water alerts across Sydney.

Read more: Six ways to improve water quality in New Zealand's lakes and rivers

The NSW Auditor-General’s report found serious issues in how the EPA manages water pollution in Sydney’s drinking water catchments. For example, much of the data used by the EPA was self-reported by industry sources.

It may be surprising to many Australians that our water quality varies so wildly across the country. Our pollution watchdogs need to be strengthened and resourced properly so they can protect our most fundamental resource.

Authors: Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

Read more http://theconversation.com/better-boil-ya-billy-when-australian-water-goes-bad-99451

Politics

Central and North Queenslanders overwhelmingly back coal sector

More than 80 per cent of young people in Central and North Queensland believe the coal sector and the jobs it creates are critical to the state’s economy, particularly regional Queensland.   Mi...

Senator Canavan - avatar Senator Canavan

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton on steel industry

Ambitious expansion plans make mockery of those who wrote off Australian steel industry GFG Alliance's planned rejuvenation of the Whyalla steelworks, and the Australian steel industry more generall...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

George Neophytou supports roads funding and more

Independent candidate for Gippsland East George Neophytou has pledged to support completion of duplication of the Princes Highway between Traralgon and Sale and to upgrading of the Sale alternative ...

George Neophytou Media Release - avatar George Neophytou Media Release

Business News

10 Excellent Business Ideas for Young Entrepreneurs in 2019-2020

Top 10 Low-Budget Business Ideas for Students in 2019 Whoever said that you should wait for 10 or even more years after your graduation to launch your own business? 69% of US citizens start their ...

Elsa Avendano - avatar Elsa Avendano

The 1-Page Marketing Plan

SKIP BUSINESS SCHOOL. READ THIS NEW BOOK INSTEAD. Named as one of the “10 best marketing books for small business owners” by The Huffington Post.   MEDIA RELEASE: MELBOURNE, DECEMBER 13, 2018 —...

Claire Marshall - avatar Claire Marshall

How to Empower Your Employees in 2019

Employee empowerment is the focus of many employers in this present day. The reality is that although you may hire competent and qualified professionals, you still need to invest in building them up...

News Company - avatar News Company

Travel

Road Trip On Your Mind? Keep These Aspects In Mind As Well

Take a Road Trip! The great road trip. Movies are made of this type of freedom. The roads are calling and you are feeling the need for a road trip. Join millions of other people who enjoy the great o...

News Company - avatar News Company

Best Short Term Accommodation in Brisbane

Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland in Australia is known for its museum and Science center. With a lot of creative spaces and gardens on the riverside, it is a magnificent and popular destinat...

News Company - avatar News Company

Best Short-term Accommodations in Sydney

If you are looking to spend a night or two in the sprawling city of Sydney, you might be in need of a lodging place or hotel to stay. We would like to give you here a list of the best short term acc...

News Company - avatar News Company