NSW Health documents have revealed that there are various areas in rural NSW where deadly pathogens are regularly detected at dangerous levels in unfiltered drinking water pumped from lakes, rivers and dams.
The reports have also revealed that in excess of 100,000 NSW residents were issued with protective boil-water alerts over the past five years. Among the cities cited as the worst-performing areas are Grafton, Jindabyne, Kempsey, Merimbula and Scone, with repeated contamination incidents triggering potential health risks.
Residents in Grafton, which has a population of 40,000 and which has faced ten boil-water alerts since 2006 are again at risk from cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes gastrointestinal illness, and which is caused by faecal contamination from cattle, and even swimmers along the lower Clarence River catchment.
The Bemboka River catchment, near Merimbula is plagued by similar problems, with the Bega Valley Council having issued four boil-water alerts over the past ten years. The problems are apparently caused by onsite sewerage system discharges, upstream dairy farms, and failures and presence of septic systems. Chlorine-resistant pathogens are a threat to more than 40,000 people.
In Kempsey, toxic blue – green algae called cyanobacteria, caused by Grazing dairy cattle and raw sewage discharges near the Steuart McIntyre Dam, are the threat that can shut down supply to around 15,000 residents.
In excess of 6,000 residents in Scone, Murrurundi and Aberdeen are rated at “very high risk” from dangerous pathogens. There is a moderate risk from the presence of cryptosporidium as well as toxic blue-green algae in Jindabyne and Barry Way.
Filtration systems would put rural water supplies on the same standard enjoyed by large cities, but the cost of introducing filtration across rural NSW is estimated to be around $1.5 billion to $2 billion. According to a spokesperson, $7.3 million dollars has been invested in programs to improve drinking water quality since 2012, but this is not enough.