11 September 2019

Storms and drought combine to extend Cooma water headache

| Ian Campbell
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Cooma Water Treatment Plant full of muddy water. Photo: SMRC.

Cooma Water Treatment Plant full of muddy water. Photo: SMRC.

Cooma water continues to be an assault on the senses as Snowy Monaro Regional Council wrestle with the impacts of ongoing flash flooding.

The bad taste and odour in the town’s drinking water developed early last month on the back of storm activity along the Murrumbidgee River, upstream of the Cooma Water Treatment Plant (WTP). Large volumes of dirt and silt were flushed into Cooma’s water supply weir pool on the river. At that point, the chocolate milk coloured contamination extended for a further 21 km upstream of the Cooma WTP.

A second rain event late last week (March 29/30) canceled out Council’s reassurances to residents that the problem would be fixed by now – April 5.

“Our staff have been working very hard, some up to 20 hours a day, and are committed to getting on top of this problem,” Mayor John Rooney says.

“The water coming out of the tap does comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, however, it does have an unpleasant taste and odour and discoloration.

“We are confident we’ll get on top of it in the next week and be back to business as usual for Cooma’s water supply.”

Cr Rooney says residents are coping well and has thanked the community for its patience.

In explaining the issue, the Mayor says extended dry times leading up to recent downpours have played a role.

“This is erosion from upstream, last week’s rain has compounded the problem, its the product of a long period of drought leaving a very thin coverage of vegetation on the ground and leaving it very vulnerable to washout,” he explains.

“Getting that second rain event has been a blessing for some but has been very unfortunate while we try and resolve this for the good folk of Cooma.”

The muddy Murrumbidgee River flowing into Cooma WTP. Photo: SMRC.

The muddy Murrumbidgee River flowing into Cooma WTP. Photo: SMRC.

The Cooma WTP has coped well according to Cr Rooney, “it is the best and most capable water treatment plant in Snowy Monaro.”

“Have a look at the colour of the Murrumbidgee River, I am amazed that the Water Treatment Plant can clarify that and turn it into a state that is safe for drinking.

“This is not a design issue or an engineering issue, it is a problem with the quality of the source water.”

Council staff are currently working with landholders upstream to address the risk of further erosion.

As a resident of Michalago, the Mayor hopes the experience highlights the importance of and work involved in providing reticulated potable water.

“Town people tend to take town water for granted. There are many small villages in Snowy Monaro who don’t have potable water and all of us living on the land are responsible for providing our own water,” he says.

Improving the water quality for the Bombala and Delegate communities is also a work in progress for Council, planning and engineering considerations are underway at the moment, Cr Rooney hopes that works on the $15 million project will be underway within the next 18 months.

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I was quite dismayed, after reading this article, to reflect on the waste of water at a Cooma caravan park I stayed in very recently.
Ameneties blocks had old-fashioned toilet cisterns that delivered full flush every time. Some of these cisterns were running constantly.
I live on precious tank water, so am aware of water conservation. Simple repairs to tired equipment would be a start, but replacement with modern dual flush toilets and maintenance of other taps and fittings is long overdue.

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