Topic: Water for Remote First Nations Communities in Australia

‘This wouldn’t be acceptable in the city’

The local tap water in the North West Queensland community of Doomadgee has been brown and murky “on and off” for at least two years”, according to local resident Delwyn O’Keefe. However, due to the inflated cost of bottled water in the remote community, she said residents had no option but to drink the tap water.  

“We’ve got no choice, because the cheapest water you can buy is $2.90 – that’s a 1.25 litre,” she told NITV News. “The five-litre bottles are like $10. It’s dearer than the price of fuel.” 

Ms O’Keefe – who has spent most of her life in Doomadgee – said she shared her concerns on Facebook because she felt that remote communities were being overlooked.  

“This wouldn’t be acceptable in the city at all,” she said. “This is 2018 and stuff like this shouldn’t even happen.” 

Home to around 2000 people, Doomadgee is the second remote Indigenous community in Queensland to express concerns over water quality in recent weeks, after Palm Island residents reported similar issues in November.  

Both communities have naturally high levels of iron and manganese in the raw water supply. 

Garry Jeffries, Acting CEO of Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council, said daily testing showed the water was still safe to drink. 

“It’s not dirty water – it’s discoloured,” he told NITV News. “The authorities tell us that while it’s not aesthetically very pleasing, it’s not a health risk and we do what we can to control it.” 

Mr Jeffries said the council manually treats the raw water supply with three chemicals.  

However, any residual chemicals can have a delayed reaction with any residual iron and manganese, which may cause discolouration. He said the issue was harder to manage during the summer months.  

“In the last, probably, four weeks we’ve been having extreme temperatures and our water usage has gone up quite dramatically… so the incidence may have been a little bit higher than normal,” he said. 

“On top of that, this time of the year – while our raw water storage has never run dry, the levels get low, which means the concentration of the iron and manganese levels is higher than normal, so it creates more effort for us to flush to try and alleviate it.” 

Mr Jeffries said the council had received State Government funding to automate the chemical mixing and dosing process, which he hopes will provide a long-term fix by early 2019. 

Concerns over Palm Island water quality, but residents told it’s ‘safe’ to drink.

This case study is a summary of the article published by NITV News (Ella Archibald-Binge) publicly available from SBS website. 

Residents in Palm Island – a small Aboriginal community off the coast of Townsville – say they’re afraid to drink their local tap water, which has been murky and discoloured for about a month. 

“For the last month it’s been brown, but it just comes on and off – like clear, then dark,” said Victor Daisy, who’s lived on Palm Island his whole life. 

A video uploaded to social media by a Palm Island resident on Monday shows a tap emitting brown water. 

Experts say it will take a further six weeks to fix the issue. 

Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council Mayor Alf Lacey told NITV News that daily testing showed the water was still safe to drink.  

“The testing that we’re currently doing at the moment, whilst there’s discolouring in the water, is that it’s safe for community consumption,” he said. 

“But I do understand the discolouring is putting people off. Even in my own house, the water’s sort of brownish in the bathtub and washing up and in the showers.” Mr Daisy said he “would never drink it”.  

Home to around 2000 people, Palm Island is two hours from Townsville by ferry. 

The local supermarket – the only one on the island – has provided one free carton of bottled water to each household, but Mr Daisy says it’s not enough.  

He said he asked the local government-run hospital for clean water to use for his cooking on Monday night but was refused.  

“Everyone’s running around like a headless chook looking for clean water, so it’s a bad error,” the grandfather told NITV News. A $1.4 million water treatment plant was installed in the north Queensland community in August last year. 

Mr Daisy – who said he worked for the council’s water and sewerage department until he resigned a few years ago – claims local staff didn’t receive adequate training to manage the new facility.  

“Our mob didn’t have any training, the council didn’t train any of our council workers for this new machine to run it,” he told NITV News.  

“The engineers that were here that built it – they went away, they’ve finished their contract, and no one’s here to operate the pumps, the new machine. “They were just setting our mob up for failure.” 

Mayor Alf Lacey refuted claims that staff weren’t adequately trained, and said he had every confidence in local workers who were well-equipped to manage the new system. 

“We don’t need fear factor at this point in time,” he said. “Council is doing everything possible to ensure that we try and fix the issue.” 

Late last month, the council issued a public notice saying the treatment plant was undergoing urgent “critical repairs” to address the water discolouration, but the problem remains ongoing. 


This case study is a summary of the article published by NITV News (Ella Archibald-Binge) publicly available from SBS website.