Katherine’s new water treatment plant fix is unlikely to arrive in time to help with this year’s water contamination crisis.
Defence Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Darwin earlier this month the new plant, being urgently brought in to cope with an expected spike in PFAS concentrations in the town’s drinking water, would be installed this month.
Her department is not so optimistic.
“The Katherine water treatment plant is currently being constructed in the United States,” a defence spokesman said this week.
“It is due to arrive in Australia in late September 2017 however this is dependent on construction and transportation times.
“Once the plant arrives in Australia, it will commence a commissioning process.
“It is expected that the system will be treating water, as part of the commissioning process, by the end of October 2017 and fully operational shortly after,” the spokesman said.
The “interim” water treatment plant to be supplied to Katherine is only seen as a band-aid measure.
The US-made plant will “treat” one megalitre of bore water a day, removing “most” of the PFAS chemicals.
Given that Katherine uses 15 megalitres per day at the peak of demand, NT Government officials are now banking on the water restrictions which began on August 21 to reduce this demand down to something like 13 megalitres per day.
Then the authorities can mix the clean water from the new plant with river supplies and the PFAS-bad bore water to provide residents with drinking water under the 0.07 micrograms per litre recommended limit.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles flew to Katherine in August to announce emergency measures for Katherine’s drinking water.
PFAS levels in the town’s drinking water have already spiked four times above the 0.07 safe level although no further information was ever provided about these results.
Government officials say average readings are below 0.07 and the water remains safe to drink.
Ms Fyles identified the risk period of peak demand as September and October when water use traditionally rises by 50 per cent.
”Katherine residents deserve to have control over their lives and access to high quality services,” 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."
“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,” Minister Payne said last month.
This plant will use a process using Ion Exchange Resins to clean up the PFAS.
“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.
”The identification of new technologies for effective monitoring and management of PFAS contamination is a key priority for Defence,” Ms Payne said.
“Defence continues to engage with industry experts, both nationally and internationally, to identify the best management options for PFAS at its sites.”
Power and Water officials say for Katherine this may mean drilling bores in new locations for the water treatment plant, or a full blown water plant using either the resin technology being trialled, the more popular but expensive activated carbon process, or some other solution.