CLEAN WATER BATTLE: SPECIAL REPORT

Sea Lake is just one of a number of towns in northern Victoria where clean drinking water is lacking to some homes. Picture: MEAGAN McGREGOR

Sea Lake is just one of a number of towns in northern Victoria where clean drinking water is lacking to some homes. Picture: MEAGAN McGREGOR

RESIDENTS in towns across the Mallee could have access to safe, clean drinking water for around an extra 40 cents per day. 

GWMWater, which supplies water to more than 70 Victorian towns, said an "upgraded town water supply based on average consumption" would cost residents an estimated $150 per annum. 

Despite this, many towns within the Mallee remain reliant on untreated water supplies as their main source of water. 

Within the Buloke Shire Council local government area Birchip, Donald, Charlton and Wycheproof residents have access to drinking water. 

Executive manager of stakeholders and governance for GWMWater Andrew Rose said preference to towns with a treated drinking supply came down to risk factors. 

"Generally the process is risk based with towns where there are hospitals, schools and food preparation premises or if they are on a major highway with a large number of visitors to the town," Mr Rose said. 

While Sea Lake sits on the Calder Highway and is home to two schools, a hospital, motel and has seen an increased number of tourists to the area following the Lake Tyrrell tourism boom, the town's water supply is only partially treated, with GWMWater conceding the supply is "still regarded as a drinking supply", with the town earmarked on the program for full treatment. 

Mr Rose said GWMWater was committed to upgrades in several towns in the coming year, including the highly populated tourism town of Brim following the success of the silo art trail, Beulah and Sea Lake. 

He said while treated drinking water was considered a priority for those living in rural Victoria, it came down to "the community's desire and the issue of affordability". 

"We have conducted focus groups including customers from Culgoa, Ultima and Berriwillock and the views varied from town to town," Mr Rose said. 

"Not everybody wants a drinking supply, some are generally happy with rainwater tanks and use the untreated town supply for garden watering and laundry." 

However, tariffs for the 2016/17 year reveal annual charges between a rural customer with an untreated supply and an urban customer with a fully treated supply is $65.92 with a volumetric charge difference of 72 cents per kilolitre. 

Mr Rose said GWMWater had recently formed a deliberative panel which met for the first time last month. 

He said the panel would help shape the future. 

"This will start the process of helping us to decide on future improvements across a range of issues, not just water quality," Mr Rose said.


Buloke Shire Council remains committed to working with GMW Water to improve the quality of water supplied in the region.

Buloke Shire Council remains committed to working with GMW Water to improve the quality of water supplied in the region.

THE BULOKE Shire Council remains committed to working with GWMWater to improve the quality of water supplied within the Buloke Shire.

Buloke Shire Council chief executive officer Lucy Roffey said Council had received very few complaints in the last two years since Donald was connected to a treated water source. 

"Council recently met with GWM as part of their consultation on their upcoming pricing submission," Ms Roffey said. 

"We meet with GWM annually to raise any issues on behalf of the community and have previously advocated on the impacts of water restrictions on livestock, intensive animal husbandry, recreation, firefighting and road works."

Ms Roffey said access to safe drinking water would be one of the essential services that would be examined as part of the Rural Living Campaign. 

"The Rural Living Campaign aims to identify and describe what constitutes essential services and the minimum level or set of services that should be available for all Victorians regardless of their place of residence, employment and education. 

"Our community would agree with the State Government's Water for Victoria plan that: a healthy environment and safe, affordable and reliable water services are essential for people, jobs and a thriving economy". 

Ms Roffey said the Buloke Shire had a high rate of sugary drink consumption. 

"This may be a result of the level of access to treated water supplies, but requires further investigation," Ms Roffey said. 

She said it would be good to see a cost effective solution developed for towns with an untreated water supply. 

"We understand that GWM is committed to an upgrade to the Sea Lake water supply," Ms Roffey said. 

"Other small towns that have untreated water supplies understand the high cost of water treatment, however it would be good to see innovative solutions applied to enable cost-effective treatment."

A sample of the tap water which was taken at a Berriwillock household late last year.

A sample of the tap water which was taken at a Berriwillock household late last year.

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BERRIWILLOCK resident Frankie Pingel has lived in the township for more than eight years and describes the town's water supply as "atrocious", noting it's worse than a third world country. 

"It smells and is not fit for anything," she said. 

To combat the problem, Ms Pingel has invested in five rainwater tanks. 

She relies on these tanks for almost everything. 

"Even the toilet water is from the tanks," Ms Pingel said. 

She said the only water she used from GWMWater's supply, via the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline, was for her garden. 

"It's only fit for the ground," she said. 

"Even then, I only use a minimal amount." 

Water supplied to the town is untreated and therefore is not fit for human consumption. 

"The water is not safe for drinking," GWMWater said. 

"However, you can still use this water for household activities, such as watering gardens, flushing toilets, irrigation and laundry. 

"You can also use it for showering or bathing, as long as you're careful to avoid swallowing the water." 

Despite this, Ms Pingel said residents were paying top dollar for an inferior product. 

"It's woeful, we're paying top dollar for something that is just not useable." 

Ms Pingel contacted GWMWater and has attempted to disconnect her water supply altogether, but her request fell on deaf ears. 

She's currently paying for a service which she hardly utilises. 

"We're charged regardless because of the availability of the meter being there."

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