The Department of Defence has ordered two water treatment plants from the USA to start cleaning up PFAS leaking from the Tindal RAAF Base.
But no contracts have been signed to do the same for the Katherine township as authorities continue to heavily rely on residents restricting their outside watering to keep their drinking water safe.
On the eve of a Senate public hearing in Katherine on Thursday, Defence has told Katherine Times it has signed a contract to install and operate two water treatment plants at Tindal.
These plants will intercept the highly contaminated water leaking from Tindal, clean it, and reinject it back into the aquifer.
The contract, again with the US supplier of Katherine’s emergency water treatment plant, is for an initial period of three years, with two possible extensions of two years each.
ECT2 provided the $4 million plant to Katherine late last year but it can only remove PFAS from about 10 per cent of the town’s drinking water.
The NT Government wants a much bigger plant installed at Katherine to treat all of the town’s water, a move which would finally end the need for water restrictions.
Katherine is now in its second year of restrictions, and residents have responded by keeping their daily water use well under previous years’ average.
Chris Horton, Power and Water’s area manager for Katherine, said at the end of June, water use was down by more than two million litres per day compared with the same time last year.
“This is a great achievement by everyone. Using less water is essential to help keep reliance on bore water to a minimum of one million litres a day. This is the amount that can be successfully treated to remove PFAS by the pilot PFAS treatment plant each day,” Mr Horton said.
“Katherine’s drinking water is sourced mainly from the Katherine River, however a small amount of bore water is also needed to adequately supply the town’s daily water needs.
“Through the efforts of the Katherine community, reliance on bore water can be kept down and our drinking water free of PFAS and safe to drink.”
But with the end of the dry season and arrival of the build-up weather, water use dramatically rises in Katherine – stretching available water supplies again.
A Defence spokesman said the first plant for Tindal will be delivered by the end of 2018, with full operations starting in early 2019.
The second plant is expected to be delivered during the second quarter of 2019.
Once the water treatment plants are operational, data detailing laboratory analysis, from each plant, will be placed on the Defence website monthly, the spokesman said.
Responding to questions over the need for a bigger plant in Katherine the spokesman said: “State and federal health authorities have confirmed Katherine town water is safe to drink.
“Defence will continue to work with the Katherine community and the Northern Territory Government as it investigates, and implements strategies to reduce, PFAS exposure.”
Power and Water officials will be on hand at the show this week to answer questions from residents about conservation measures and fixing leaks.
Mr Horton said a recent survey of Katherine through the Our Living Water Smart Leak Find and Fix program has also helped significantly, identifying and fixing around 147 leaks since May, which will save an estimated 13.2 million litres of water a year,” he said.
Pointers in how to save water in your garden will also be available at the show from Power and Water.
“Every little bit helps. Katherine is one of the highest water users in the country at around 426 litres per person, per day. This is down from 529 litres per person, per day at the same time last year. The national average is 226 litres per person, per day,” Mr Horton said.
“As we approach the end of the dry season and the ‘build-up’ conditions begin, historically water use increases and we need to remain vigilant. We’ll be keeping the community informed of the town’s water use regularly so we can work together to continue to keep our water safe and reliable.”