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Uncertainty about CVC’s drinking water management system

Updating Clarence Valley Council’s Drinking Water Management System (DWMS) seemed like a straightforward process, at least that’s the impression councillors unanimously thought was the case at the May 26 CVC meeting when they adopted the reviewed and updated DWMS document.

However, an investigation by the Independent reveals that errors have been made and, as a result, councillors will have to reconsider their decision at a future meeting.

At the May 26 meeting, Cr Richie Williamson asked a pertinent question regarding whether or not the revised management system met “public health guidelines”.

“Is that accurate?” he asked.

The general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said he was “not aware of that; it hasn’t been brought to my attention … I’m not aware of any conditions”.

From the soon to be amended Drinking Water Management System, the Rushforth Road water supply facility’s turbidity targets. Courtesy CVC

Meanwhile prior to the meeting, Yamba resident, Leigh Chiplin, had emailed a copy of her submission to “Budget 2020-21 – project priorities – water filtration infrastructure”.

She pointed out that the following statement appeared in the revised DWMS: “Neither NSW Health nor the contractor who prepared this document endorse this procedure as being fully protective of public health.”

This disclaimer is cited seven times in the document, across the various water supplies administered by CVC.

Ms Chiplin drew councillors’ attention to an example at the Rushforth Road water supply facility.

“Australian Drinking Water Guidelines recommend turbidity below 1 NTU [nephelometric turbidity unit] as disinfection may be compromised at higher turbidity.

“E coli monitoring at higher turbidities is intended to build a dataset for scheme validation.

“It is acknowledged that these schemes regularly operate at [greater than] > 1 NTU.

“Neither NSW Health nor the contractor who prepared this document endorse this procedure as being fully protective of public health.

“This procedure recognises that [less than] < 1 NTU is not generally achievable as there is no filtration in this scheme.

Future treatment upgrades should include filtration to ensure multiple robust barriers are present at all times.”

The Independent asked NSW Health why it was acceptable to have the disclaimer in the valley’s water supply management plan that indicates a failure to meet health standards.

The Northern NSW Local Health District replied with the following media statement, attributed to Greg Bell, assistant director, North Coast Public Health Unit: “North Coast Public Health Unit (NCPHU) can confirm that Clarence Valley Council’s drinking water supplies meet National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) drinking water standards, described in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

“NCPHU understands the report presented to the recent Council meeting incorrectly included draft working statements indicating that the proposed management procedures may not be suitable. “These draft working statements have been removed as they did not reflect NSW Health’s position on Council’s water supply operations, and the updated version of the report has been provided to Council.

“NCPHU Assistant Director Greg Bell said that all water utilities are required under the Public Health Act 2010 to have a quality assurance program for drinking water quality management.

“’These programs should be reviewed, which provides opportunity for water utilities and their supporting government agencies to evaluate past performance, and consider new procedures and technologies for managing water quality risks,’ he said.

“‘This can help respond to localised needs for water treatment and the evolving regulations and standards which together work to assure the safety of public drinking water supplies.’”

Mr Lindsay said an amended report would be tabled at the June CVC meeting.