Push for 'stocktake' of remote water supplies

Push for 'stocktake' of remote water supplies in SA

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IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: The Scotdesco Aboriginal Community, 100km west of Ceduna, ran out of water in 2019 after a dry winter and was forced to truck water in. Photo: SUPPLIED

IMPROVEMENT NEEDED: The Scotdesco Aboriginal Community, 100km west of Ceduna, ran out of water in 2019 after a dry winter and was forced to truck water in. Photo: SUPPLIED

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A "stocktake" of water services in regional and remote SA is needed as a "matter of priority" says the SA Council of Social Service.

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A "stocktake" of water services in regional and remote SA is needed, as a number of communities face ongoing issues accessing safe drinking water, according to SA Council of Social Service chief executive officer Ross Womersley.

Mr Womersley made the call in a recent online hearing to the Productivity Commission's National Water Reform review, who are delivering a final report to the federal government in June.

He said the stocktake was needed "as a matter of priority" to better understand the extent of the issue within SA regions, address the causes, identify systemic challenges, and figure out the level of investment required to fix the problems.

"Water is one of the most fundamental basic human needs and access to safe, secure and affordable drinking water is critical for our collective health and wellbeing," he said.

"SACOSS - the peak body for non-government social and welfare services across SA - supports the PC's view that elements of the National Water Initiative are no longer fit-for-purpose, as we continue to grapple with the impacts of a drying climate.

"The next era of water reforms presents an opportunity to improve service provision for those living in regional and remote areas, particularly remote Aboriginal communities.

"Policies and reforms to-date have mostly remained silent on addressing the gap in standards of service delivery for drinking water services in smaller regional and remote communities, where full cost recovery is difficult."

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He said as a result, some communities were receiving poor - sometimes unsafe - unreliable and high-cost water services.

"There is no single source of information or understanding regarding the ownership, delivery and status of water services to regional and remote SA communities - which is troubling," he said.

"A stocktake should be a matter of priority and should involve communities, local councils and the state and federal governments."

Mr Womersley used the Scotdesco Aboriginal Community, 100 kilometres west of Ceduna, as an example, with its population of 50 primarily relying on rainwater.

"In late 2019, the community experienced critical water shortages due to lack of winter rainfall and required emergency water to be carted in at a cost of $1400 per truckload," he said.

"As the Scotdesco community falls outside of the boundary of a prescribed area, it was unable to access the government-subsidised cost of $300 for the same amount of water."

Mr Womersley said while a state government taskforce was set up last year to address these issues, he had yet to see any movement towards a solution.

Flinders Ranges Council mayor Greg Flint said their communities had also been waiting for the government to help find a solution to their long-standing absence of quality drinking water.

Quorn relies on heavily-mineralised bore water.

Water quality is a basic right and is important to health, but it is costing us dearly. - GREG FLINT

"There was talk of extending the Whyalla pipeline through Melrose, Wilmington and Quorn, but that was considered too expensive, while Hawker and Orroroo both got lovely desalination plants, and Quorn was meant to be next, but it never happened," he said.

"We have an ageing population, and our pensioners are having to replace hot water systems, taps, every few years because of how poor the water quality is, or face increased electricity costs from having to pump rainwater - that's if we have rain.

"Water quality is a basic right and is important to health, but it is costing us dearly."

In June last year, the state government committed a "life-changing" $41 million over four years to upgrading drinking water supplies in the communities of Yunta, Oodnadatta, Marree, Terowie, Marla and Manna Hill, while $7.9m would be allocated to the maintenance and replacement of water assets in Aboriginal communities.

"SA Water has always said it would complete these upgrades in the regulatory period (between 2020 and 2024) and I will be making sure they are done as fast as practically possible," SA Water Minister David Speirs said.

"Regional communities across SA have been crying out for better water access for years. We will continue to work with other communities to look at options to improve long-term water supply."

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