Residents have their fill of discoloured water

Residents have had their fill of discoloured water for weeks now, and are calling on Yass Valley Council to fix the problem.

Photos flooded Facebook over the holidays, of brown drinking water, baths and clothes, after a water treatment plant malfunction.

Wayne Pearce at Yass Car Wash shows the colour difference between local tap water (left) and bottled water (right). Photo: Hannah Sparks

Wayne Pearce at Yass Car Wash shows the colour difference between local tap water (left) and bottled water (right). Photo: Hannah Sparks

The council tested and reported the discoloured water as safe to drink, but their assurances did little to reduce public concern.

Tourist Melissa Parker noticed brown water from a motel shower on December 27. Speaking to locals, they told her it was a town issue.

There’s a difference between safe to drink and pleasant to live with.

Tom O'Dea

Not every business went without complaints, however. Another motel manager said a negative review online mentioned the water.

Yass resident Tom O’Dea shared a photo on Facebook of his bath full of brown water, in which he wouldn’t let his four-year-old bathe.

Mr O’Dea had moved to Yass from Sydney early in December. He said local real estate agents had not warned him about the water.

The discoloured drinking water looks almost as brown as water in the Yass River.

The discoloured drinking water looks almost as brown as water in the Yass River.

He was considering spending $2000-$3000 on a filtration system.

“I’m going to spend the money because we can’t get soap to lather, we’re buying bottled water, even going to friends in Canberra to fill up containers and my son is not having his usual bath,” he said.

He was amazed council considered the water safe to drink.

“There’s a difference between safe to drink and pleasant to live with,” he said.

Mr O’Dea wrote to Goulburn MP Pru Goward and Eden-Monaro MP Dr Mike Kelly, and plans to raise it at council’s February 27 meeting.

“I believe that council is doing the best they can, but we need to look outside the box, at state and federal assistance,” he said.

“To have water fit for consumption but not for a bath in 2019 is crazy.

The council really need to invest in the water treatment plant.

Pete Chatwin

Another resident, Pete Chatwin, posted a photo of a month-old, discoloured and clogged filter from the Yass Car Wash with the comment: “So, Yass Valley Council thinks their water is clean?”

The one-month-old filter from Yass Car Wash. Photo: Pete Chatwin

The one-month-old filter from Yass Car Wash. Photo: Pete Chatwin

The car wash usually changed its filter in Yass once every three months, and once every two years in Tumut, Mr Chatwin said.

The council “really need to invest” in the water treatment plant, he said, “especially with new developments like the Walkers’.”

Referring to the 62 residential lots (subject to council approval) to be built at 60 and 82 Laidlaw Street in response to population growth, Mr Chatwin wondered what investors would make of the water quality.

Locals have been complaining to the council about water quality for years, as reported in ‘Brown water causes a stir’ (Tribune, January 2014), but the recent discolouration has brought it to the boil again.

We will need approximately $11 million to fix the water treatment plant.

Yass Valley mayor Rowena Abbey

Yass Valley Council says the local treatment plant will need serious investment to improve its water quality.

Director of engineering Stan Robb said the supply’s poor palatability was due to high hardness, dissolved solids and organic matter.

The plant was built in 1938 and last upgraded in 1990. It had not been designed for the removal of these materials, Mr Robb said, the presence of which could be attributed to “geology, hydrology and anthropogenic activities within the Yass River catchment”.

Water with a filter (left) and without (right), posted this week. Photo: Bec Rattenbury

Water with a filter (left) and without (right), posted this week. Photo: Bec Rattenbury

The state’s Housing Acceleration Fund granted the council $1.2 million in December last year “to prepare a detailed design and final business case for a ‘reverse osmosis plant’, which will be able to remove the above mentioned materials,” Mr Robb said.

Yass mayor Rowena Abbey said the council was also seeking more state and federal government funding to fix the treatment plant.

“We will need approximately $11 million … but we are competing for funding with rural and regional communities who don’t even have water, so the money is not easy to come by,” Cr Abbey said.

Mr Robb said the council had publicly recorded its daily drinking water quality results since 2014.

“NSW Health also conducts monthly, independent testing of the water supply,” Mr Robb said. 

“The most recent sample tested on 7 January 2019 shows that the water continues to comply with the health criteria of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”

However, the water did not meet the guidelines for colour between December 28 and January 8.

Many residents continue to buy bottled water, costing about $300 per year, per person, and filling a full recycling bin with plastic each week.