12 January 2021

Department of Planning delays fixing Yass' dirty water

| Hannah Sparks
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A bath filled with yellow water at Yass resident Tom O'Dea's house.

Yass resident Tom O’Dea ran a yellow bath in December 2020, a result of poor quality local water. Photo: Supplied.

Residents in the NSW town of Yass could be waiting for years for a solution to their brown, smelly water, with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment telling the local council it doesn’t support plans for a new water treatment plant.

The silver lining is that the department has backed Yass Valley Council’s proposal to upgrade the existing raw water pump station and install bubble plume aeration at a cost of about $2 million, which will improve the drinking water in the short-term and is due to be completed by January 2022.

However, the department is reluctant to endorse council’s proposal to construct a new water treatment plant or rehabilitate the existing treatment units at a cost of about $31.2 million.

That’s despite former Goulburn MP Pru Goward promising in the lead up to the NSW state election that a new water treatment plant would be funded by the NSW Liberals and Nationals’ $1 billion Safe and Secure Water infrastructure program.

Brown water in basin at Bec Smedley's house in Yass.

Brown water in a basin at Bec Smedley’s house near the water treatment plant in Yass. Photo: Supplied.

In a statement to Region Media, the department said: “The department is continuing ongoing discussions with Yass Valley Council. The department supports the resolution to progress stage one (raw water pump station upgrade, bubble plume aeration installation and urgent works at the existing water treatment plant) as a priority in advance of finalising discussions on stages two (new water treatment plant) and three (rehabilitation of existing treatment units).

“This includes the development of a detailed business case by the council which includes financial modelling.”

However, that business case won’t be completed by council until a peer review of stages two and three, according to Yass Valley Council’s manager of water and wastewater, Kuga Kugaprasatham. The peer review will begin in January and run until May. The detailed design and business case are then expected to be completed by February 2022.

Council had hired a consultant, Hunter H20, to help with upgrade options for the water treatment plant, and has asked for a peer review of those options to assist its discussions with the department.

Yass Valley Council says “stage one is by no means the solution to the current water quality problems of Yass” and that “a new water treatment plant [is] the council’s preferred option as it addresses the colour, odour and hardness water quality issues.”

Despite all this, the department would not explain to Region Media why it doesn’t support the new water treatment plant.

A baby bottle filled with brown water at Yass resident Lizzie Stevens's house.

Resident Lizzie Stevens is afraid to give Yass water to her four children, aged between 18 months and 11 years old. Photo: Supplied.

Residents say they prefer to buy bottled water than drink Yass water. They won’t bathe their children in the water and say it damages appliances including stainless steel kettles.

Bec Smedley lives close to the water treatment plant in Yass and turned on her tap on 28 December, 2020, to find dark brown water ran into her basin.

She says she tried to run her taps as advised by council, but the water colour only worsened.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and the water has always been up and down in quality,” says Bec. “Some days when you turn on the shower, it smells like you’re at the pool and makes you itchy after you dry off.”

Lizzie Stevens has also experienced the water running from a tea colour to dark brown throughout the 11 years and three different houses she’s lived in on the opposite side of Yass. She recently shared a photo of a baby bottle filled with yellow water and says she usually buys water instead of using water from the tap.

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“I have four kids aged between 18 months and 11 years old, and it’s worried me with each baby,” she says.

The federal Labor MP for Yass, Kristy McBain, says it’s “abundantly clear” that Yass’ water needs fixing.

Her predecessor, Mike Kelly, also promised to fund the new Yass water treatment plant if Labor had been elected in the federal election.

“I welcome the agreement reached on stage one of the works,” said Ms McBain. “However, we also need to work towards long-term solutions.”

She said she will work with the community, the NSW Government and Yass Valley Council to achieve that solution.

“We would never expect people in our cities to drink brown, smelly water,” said Ms McBain. “The residents of the Yass Valley deserve no less.”

Region Media also contacted state Liberal MP for Yass, Wendy Tuckerman, and is waiting for a response.

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We were promised a fix to the third-world standard of drinking water. Who is being made responsible for the failure to provide adequate services to the community?

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