During a drought, water supply authorities are under pressure to balance supply of drinking water with demand.
The NSW Department of Health and staff in your local Public Health Units (PHU) located across the state are keen to work with water supply authorities (WSAs) to continue to provide water that is safe for domestic and commercial use. This could include assistance in managing water-related issues, collaborative media releases/campaigns or provision of advice on public health-related matters.
WSAs manage water supply and distribution systems that are fundamental to the protection and preservation of the health of the community. It is just as important during drought as it is in other times that these systems continue to manage public health risks through the maintenance of multiple barriers.
These barriers include:
It is especially important that the advances in public health, made possible through provision of safe drinking water, are not lost in times of drought through removal of these barriers or a relaxation of the accepted water quality criteria (Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG)).
Full participation in the NSW Health Drinking Water Monitoring Program is extremely important.
The program provides free water sample testing in accordance with recommendations made in the ADWG, based on population served and complexity of the system. Results of all system performance sampling are available in the NSW Drinking Water Database.
Where a new alternative supply is sought, it is important to ensure that appropriate testing of the source water is conducted before use. WSAs are expected to satisfy themselves of safety with respect to microbiological, heavy metal, chemical and radiological contamination, and in areas prone to risk, of pesticide contamination. For supplies where state government financial assistance has been sought, the Ministry of Energy and Utilities (MEU) (formerly the Department of Land and Water Conservation) requires water quality testing to be undertaken. The results of such testing should be made available to the PHUs.
The pressure on WSAs to balance supply of potable water with demand is recognised. Recycled water schemes that comply with existing state and national guidelines are supported. Use of the potable reticulation system to provide recycled water is strongly opposed.
We anticipate increased problems with blue-green algae and encourage all WSAs to manage these issues according to the Water Directorate's Blue-Green Algae Management Protocol, the ADWG fact sheets for blue-green algae and their toxins, and in collaboration with their local PHU and the Regional Algal Coordinating Committee.
Advice is intended for use during the period of current drought conditions and water restrictions only. It supports use of washing machine rinse water and shower water for use on gardens, when bucketed out by the householder. It recommends against the installation of temporary or permanent plumbing or hoses to facilitate these uses.
The staff in your local Public Health Unit are available for advice and support in tackling water quality issues arising from the drought. In NSW call 1300 066 055 to Contact the Senior Environmental Health Officer in your local PHU.