Saturday, 20 September 2014

Yamba's water woes continue but Clarence Valley Council management just shrugs its shoulders

Intermittent but persistent problems with the quality of drinking water in the Lower Clarence continue, with episodes of discoloured/dirty water becoming a characteristic of Yamba’s water supply in 2014.

Clarence Valley Council’s explanations for this state of affairs have been varied, however little appears to have been done to rectify the situation to date.

This was the colour of Yamba township’s drinking water in February 2014:

The Daily Examiner 5 February 2014:

Clarence Valley Council director for works and civil Troy Anderson said he did not know whether the discoloured water was here to stay, but claimed it was safe to consume.
"The issue is only associated with the aesthetics of the water, it does not affect the quality," Mr Anderson said.
He said the reason for the brown water was because the flow was coming from Shannon Creek Dam which had a "higher water colour" than Nymboida.
Also adding to the tinge is a high level of biofilm in the pipes.
"In December we had requirements from NSW Heath Department to increase the residual levels of chlorine (as a greater disinfectant)," Mr Anderson said.
As a result, the added chlorine has killed off the biofilms, meaning they are dissolved into the water, adding to the discolouration.
"It is having an impact on the water colour, but they are not harmful," Mr Anderson said.
"Once they build up resilience to the added chlorine, they will reform in the pipes."
He said the council was working to control the colour of the water, but could not confirm or deny whether the icky brown liquid was here to stay.

The Daily Examiner 23 February 2014:

CLARENCE Valley residents are about to find out if the prospect of a glass of crystal clear water straight from the region's water supply is a "false hope".
At Tuesday's Clarence Valley Council meeting a notice of motion from deputy mayor Craig Howe was passed, ordering council staff to look into the feasibility of installing a water filtration plant for the region's water supply.
Over the summer, residents on the Lower River in particular, have complained of dirty water coming out of their taps.
Cr Howe admitted the source of the discolouration occurred "downstream" of where a filtration plant would have any effect, but felt he owed it to ratepayers to do something about the colour of the water.
The lone voice on council against the proposal, Cr Andrew Baker, seized on this point.
He said any investigation of a filtration plant only offered "false hope" to residents and would not do what people wanted it to do: provide clear water from their taps, at some cost in increased water rates.
After some amendments council voted eight to one for staff to investigate the cost and efficiency of a water filtration plant, what water rate increases it would incur and other ongoing costs and whether the plant could guarantee a clear water supply.
This report should be available for the April council meeting.

The Daily Examiner 27 February 2014:

VALLEY residents alarmed by the sight of brown water running from their taps should start to see the problem clearing soon.
Clarence Valley Council is continuing to test the water weekly as it attempts to resolve the problem that emerged earlier this year.
Most of the complaints received have been from the Yamba area but the task of finding a solution has been made more difficult by the apparently random spread of properties affected.
Mayor Richie Williamson said yesterday the testing had shown the discoloured water presented no health risks but said he understood why people were unhappy with the colour of the water coming from their taps.
He said the problem had been caused by the combination of higher water temperatures and an increase in the amount of chlorine added to the water supply following a recommendation from NSW Health.
These events contributed to naturally occurring biofilm build-up in the water pipes coming loose and entering the water supply.
"We are confident flushing of pipes and temperatures receding should start to overcome the water discolouration," Cr Williamson said.
"The biofilm will also build increased resistance to the chlorine, which will lessen the amount in the water supply."
He said the council had 205 customer service requests relating to water quality since January 1, including four complaints last weekend.
"We have discussed the matter with NSW Health and the Office of Water and we will continue to work with them to achieve the best solution," Cr Williamson said.
"They have agreed with the rectification steps council has taken so far."….

The Daily Examiner 14 May 2014:

Last week The Daily Examiner reported on a spike in discoloured water, which was an ongoing issue for some people in the Valley in the past few months.
Mr Anderson said the latest influx of complaints began last week, with 24 complaints made between Monday and Tuesday.
On Wednesday there were two complaints, none on Thursday and three on Friday. One complaint was received at the weekend and three on Monday morning.
In most cases the council attributed the discolouration to last week's cold snap, which may have destroyed micro-organisms that live in water lines.
The discolouration is believed to be the result of them flushing through the system and Mr Anderson assured residents there were no health risks associated with using the water.

The Daily Examiner 30 May 2014:

Earlier this month, Clarence Valley residents voiced concerns about intermittent problems with discoloured, and at times smelly, tap water.
Council's works and civil director Troy Anderson assured the public there were no health risks associated with the water, but the majority of people told The Daily Examiner they would not be game to test it.
Mrs Beare-Bath went one step further and sent a sample of her discoloured tap water for independent tests at the Environmental Analysis Laboratory at Southern Cross University.
The results of the sample came back this week and showed certain elements did not meet the Australian Drinking Guidelines.
SCU lab manager Graham Lancaster said the water was relatively safe to drink but below expectations.
"It's not going to cause any major illnesses but it's not perfect," he said.
According to the results, the sample's acidic pH was below the drinking water guidelines and the bacteria was marginally above guidelines. The water had elevated total coliform bacteria but low faecal bacteria, and elevated levels of iron and manganese.
Mr Lancaster said higher iron and manganese levels were not a major issue for drinking, but said it could cause stains in clothing.
The results came with a recommendation for the council to get the lines flushed and arrange testing.
Treatment to remove the iron and manganese and also neutralise the pH was also recommended.
"It's important to note that it's just a one-off sample," Mr Lancaster said.
"It's likely due to dirty lines. Often in the end of certain areas, lines can be a little bit dirtier."

This was the colour of Yamba’s drinking water on 5-6 September 2014:

The Daily Examiner 10 September 2014:

Clarence Valley Council works and civil director Troy Anderson said if people had concerns about water quality or appearance in Yamba in recent weeks, they hadn't let the council know.
"The last dirty water report we received from Yamba was on August 1 - more than five weeks ago," he said.
"Because our water supply is not filtered, council has historically averaged three to four reports of dirty or discoloured water each week."
Mr Anderson said the council had received four reports of bad water quality in the past seven days, but none from Yamba.
"Council staff will respond to reports of dirty or discoloured water, and people can be assured there are no health risks associated with drinking the water," Mr Anderson said.

Online comments from Yamba residents:

* What I don't understand is the random nature of the "brown" water coming through my taps - one minute it's pure and clean and the next it's filthy. Also the problem seems to be far more prevalent in West Yamba than on the hill.
Bottom line is no way am I drinking it, this is NOT (yet) a 3rd world country! Surely council isn't that cash-strapped that they can't spend some money on finding and fixing whatever is the problem, if not can I suggest all the staff working on water quality/control be retrenched as they're doing nothing for their pay and ratepayers would love to see their rates reduced….
Show me another coastal city where random dirty water is delivered and considered acceptable? That's not a reasonable service to ratepayers IMO, would you happily pay for dirty wine (or water) in a restaurant, of course not, you'd vote with your feet. It's no different here except we have no real choice of supplier - we're getting a very inferior product and we're still paying top dollar. It's not good enough, if our very good (?) staff are unable to fix things find someone who can.

* I agree we had clean untainted water. So many visitors commented on how good it was to drink. Lately though it seems the water is either discoloured or tasting strongly of chemicals ? chlorine/bleach. CVC does need to look closely at this issue.

* Why has council not notified the public of this ? The statement of water coming from Shannon Creek Dam is the issue seems false as Coffs Harbours water is fine. Plenty of towns out west have dirty water supply however provide safe clean tap drinking water. Council has a duty of care to its rate payers and the public, which they have failed. Its not only dirty water but lots of sediment as well. Councilors and Council management the people of the Clarence Valley are not idiots so please dont treat us like one.

A September 2014 complaint by a Yamba resident about water quality elicited these responses from three of the nine Clarence Valley councillors:

* [I] note that the water this morning is discoloured.

* The problem needs to be fixed.  Water supply is one of Council’s core responsibilities.

* Please be aware of my personal embarrassment at association with the organisational inability to do whatever is required to correct the water failure. My embarrassment is even more acute when I know the secret decisions of this week demonstrating what is more important than your water failure.

Clarence Valley Council management’s position on discoloured or dirty water:

Council’s weekly water testing has indicated that, despite the dirty water reports, there has been no microbiological contamination and consequently the dirty water is not considered to pose a risk to health….Council has staff “on call” 24 hours, who can respond to complaints of dirty water by flushing water mains. However, some issues with dirty water can also occur on the customer’s side of the meter; particularly in houses with older galvanised pipes. Mains flushing will not address dirty water on the customer’s side of the water meter. [Clarence Valley Council media release, 26 February 2014]

The construction of a filtration plant cannot guarantee a clear water supply at the customer’s tap, although it would reduce the incidence of dirty and discoloured water occurring. As outlined in the report on water quality to the 18 February 2014 Council meeting, discoloured water is generally associated with decomposing natural organic matter and dirty water may be caused either by sediment in the water settling out, natural microorganisms in the pipes and corrosion of pipes and fittings. While a water filtration plant would address the issues of organic matter and sediment, natural microorganism growth (from organisms already in the reticulation system) and corrosion of pipes and fittings could still occur. Both organism growth and corrosion of pipes and fittings significantly increase during high water temperatures (above about 25 degrees), and during the 2013/14 summer Council has experienced several months where the water temperature has been above 25 degrees. The construction of a water filtration plant would not reduce water temperature. [Clarence Valley Council ordinary monthly meeting minutes, 15 April 2014]

Your “on going formal complaint” is noted but Council staff can only respond to specific reports of dirty water… [Clarence Valley Council Water Cycle Manager, 18 September 2014]

As of today I have only heard of one instance where council responded to a 2014 Yamba water complaint - by flushing a street water pipe in the vicinity of Cox and Golding streets.
If North Coast Voices readers know of any other times council has done something practical about a Lower Clarence resident's water complaint, please let me know via the comment button below.

Note: All photographs found at The Daily Examiner 


Photograph of a Yamba household water filter taken at 7.45pm on 18 September 2014:

On 22 September I was informed by a home-owner living on Yamba Road that council had also flushed water pipes in their vicinity in response to a water complaint.

No comments: