Breaking news: Water crisis – restrictions, emergency treatment plant

WATER CRISIS: New water restrictions and an "interim" water treatment plant are being used to help fix contamination concerns.

WATER CRISIS: New water restrictions and an "interim" water treatment plant are being used to help fix contamination concerns.

Katherine’s water crisis has worsened.

Emergency water restrictions will begin on August 21.

The Department of Defence is paying for a new treatment plant for our drinking water, being built in the United States, in an attempt to ease our PFAS contamination crisis.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles is flying into Katherine at 1pm to announce the new emergency measures.

Federal Defence Minister Marise Payne and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the Department of Defence will provide an interim water treatment plant to reduce the amount of PFAS in the Katherine town water supply.

PFAS was contained in firefighting foams used in training at the Tindal RAAF Base between 1988 and 2004.

The chemicals have since leached from the base into Katherine’s water supply.

Defence has engaged international environmental company Emerging Compounds Treatment Technologies to provide a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that uses a synthetic substance to filter PFAS from water.

This water treatment plant will be operational in the final quarter of 2017.

Natasha Fyles.

Natasha Fyles.

This water treatment plant, which is being constructed in the United States, will act as an interim measure that will assist in reducing PFAS concentrations in the bore water component of the Katherine town water supply. 

The Australian and NT Governments will continue to work closely together to determine the best long-term solutions to ensure that PFAS detections remain below the drinking water health-based guidance values set by Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) into the future.

State and federal health authorities have confirmed that the Katherine town water supply is safe to drink and that there is minimal risk to human health posed by short-term exceedances of the tolerable daily intake for drinking water. 

Both Governments, however, recognise that community concern exists in the Katherine community about the low-level presence of PFAS in the Katherine water supply and are taking these practical steps to provide confidence and reassurance to the Katherine community that its water supply continues to remain safe to drink.

Defence’s detailed site investigation at RAAF Base Tindal, which will also include a Human Health Risk Assessment, is underway and will inform longer-term measures for managing PFAS. The identification of new technologies for effective monitoring and management of PFAS contamination is a key priority for Defence.

Defence continues to engage with industry experts, both nationally and internationally, to identify the best management options for PFAS at its sites throughout Australia.

Water restrictions

The NT Government has also announced water conservation measures for Katherine to help manage the town’s drinking water supply during the upcoming peak demand period.

Health Minister Fyles said the measures will start August 21 to help manage water demand, particularly during the town’s peak months of September and October.

“Katherine residents deserve to have control over their lives and access to high quality services,” she said.

“Reducing the amount of water Katherine residents use will improve the ability for Power and Water to manage the quality of the town’s drinking water to help ensure the levels of Poly – Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) stay within the Health Based Guidance Values."

Ms Fyles reassured Katherine residents that the monthly average PFAS levels detected through regular testing are below the national Health Based Guidance Values and the NT’s Chief Health Officer has given the reassurance that the towns reticulated water is safe to drink.

“The Northern Territory Government, Power and Water and the Department of Defence will continue to work together to effectively reduce the use of groundwater and maintain a safe drinking water supply," she said.

 “The Katherine town water supply has been given the all clear by the Department of Health, however water conservation measures will be applied as an additional precautionary measure."  

The Department of Defence today announced a water treatment plant will be installed towards the end of the year, another measure to assist with the management of town water supply in the Katherine region.

The Northern Territory and Federal Government are working together to manage this issue.

 Mr McCarthy said the help of the Katherine community was needed as the build-up approached, in September and October, when water demand in Katherine increases by up to 50 per cent.

“Katherine's drinking water supply is made up of a mix of river and bore water," he said.

"Our overall approach is focused on reducing the amount of bore water in the Katherine drinking water supply, because we know that bore water has higher levels of PFAS.

"This will be particularly important in the upcoming peak water usage months."

Minister McCarthy said the current daily average demand for Katherine is 10.25 megalitres per day while historical peak demand is around 15 megalitres per day during September and October.

“While we work with the Department of Defence on a long term solution, including new water sources and advanced water treatment technologies, I have asked Power and Water to instigate what we term compulsory water conservation measures, to help reduce overall demand and allow us to keep the use of ground water to a minimum," he said.

From August 21 the compulsory measures, aim to reduce irrigation frequency and increase efficiency, include the following restricted use of water:

  •  Odd numbered properties are permitted to irrigate Monday, Wednesday and
  • Saturday from 6pm – 8am
  • Even numbered properties are permitted to irrigate Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 6pm – 8am
  • No watering of hard surfaces
  • Hand held watering via a bucket or watering can is permitted at any time.

Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson said these conservation measures are an important step for the community.

"This is something we all need to work together on as a community to keep our drinking water safe," she said.

“PFAS contamination is a legacy issue that Katherine residents learned about from Defence last year and as a community we have come together to work through the issues. While our water is still considered safe under the national Health Based Guidance Values this is an important initiative that gives the community some control."

To support these compulsory water conservation measures, Power and Water will roll out its successful Living Water Smart program in Katherine.

The program has proven effective in delivering water saving solutions in the Darwin region, in particular with irrigation use and leak detection.

Mr McCarthy said finding and fixing water leaks and showing people how to save money with other really simple water saving techniques, makes good sense. 

“This situation reinforces how precious our water is and that we all need to be mindful about how we use it,” Mr McCarthy said.

Water conservation measures will be reviewed in November this year.

For more information visit: http://www.powerwater.com.au/Katherine for details of the program the Living Water Smart - ‘Smarter. Together.”

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