Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Chemical-free water for Douglas

The Port Douglas and Mossman community has paid for an internationally acclaimed water scientist, to visit the area to review the water treatment network.
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Professor Don Bursill also assessed two reports commissioned by the Cairns Regional Council.

"It has given our case for chemical free water a big boost," Robert Hanan of Friends of Douglas Shire says.

Newsport Daily reports that 200 residents attended a community meeting recently to hear Professor Bursill. Chlorine is destined for Douglas' water supply to supply safe drinking water.

Bursill is the former head of the Co-operative Research Centre for Drinking Water and Treatment with particular expertise in chemical free treatment and current Chair of the National Health Medical Research Council.

Former Douglas Shire Mayor Mike Berwick and Division 10 Councillor Julia Leu invited the Bursill to independently review the water system and explain why our water quality has deteriorated to such a point where the introduction of chemical disinfection in the form of chlorine was felt necessary by Cairns Water Dept.

"To live in paradise, a major given of that paradise is our water," Julia Leu told the meeting. "Water is a major issue, and I also remind everyone, that ecoli was found in the water supply. Two reports were then commissioned after continued contamination problems."

However Leu challenged the terms of reference for these reports because there was no reference to finding a way of fixing the problem and she felt this was vitally important. She also expressed her wish that the meeting should explore every option available to solve this current water crisis because speaking personally, she said "I do not want to wake up in a few years time to find out there was something we could have done."

Don Bursill has spent time with Cairns Water to see the operation and laboratory facilities. It emerged that his concern was with the sampling and testing procedures. He acknowledged that chlorine is needed at the present time until the possible flaws in the sampling and testing procedures are corrected, because without proper results, the Council has to be sure it is complying with it's legal obligation to deliver safe water to the community.

However, it was acknowledged that if that testing procedure is indeed flawed, accurate results, upon which to base the removal of the chemical disinfection, will never be achieved.

Bursill said that the original water supply from the Mossman Gorge is unquestionably a very high quality water, the filtration system exceeds requirements for such a small population and starves the possible contaminants of their food source throughout the various levels of filtration and on into the distribution network so the only place there can be a problem is with the storage tanks.

His closing remarks stressed that chemical free water is well worth the effort.

The meeting asked that Bursill report be adopted by Cairns Water to solve the storage problems, so as to leave chlorine out of the Douglas water supply.

Here's Don Bursill's conclusion for the Douglas water supply:
  • The current chlorination of the water systems in the former Douglas Shire is supported whilst faecal related contamination is still occurring.

  • There has been substantial improvement in the maintenance and prevention of access by unauthorized persons to reservoirs. However, opportunities for faecal related contamination must still exist. It seems most likely that this contamination is associated with the reservoirs.
  • There are some data in the data set examined that would indicate some work needs to be done to improve quality assurance from sampling through analysis to data verification and reporting. The absence of the pre UV sample data after mid November 2008 to 14 May 2009 from data sent to the author raises some concern about the way data sets are maintained. These issues are important but are unlikely to be the answer to the contamination issue. The occasional incorrect result may be making the resolution of the contamination issue more difficult.
  • It is not possible to say whether or not these systems can be definitely run without a disinfectant residual. This cannot be resolved until the contamination issue is resolved. However, the low level of microbiological nutrients in the treated water, the general high standard of the distribution pipe work and the low system detention times would suggest that an optimistic outcome is likely. The lack of issues in the Mossman system (which doesn’t have a reservoir in the system after the UV disinfection process) and the relatively good record for the Whyanbeel system (which has the longest detention times) tends to support an optimistic view being adopted.

    The possible way forward...

  • A more detailed and systematic examination of the former Douglas Shire systems needs to be undertaken which ensures that every opportunity is closed off for cross connections, or ingress of contaminating material containing faecal matter from animal or human origin.

  • The investigation needs to be supported by investigative monitoring designed to verify the integrity of the various parts of the system, including issues such as why regular faecal indicator organisms seem to be entering the systems between filtration and UV disinfection. These features of the system are all in close proximity to the treatment plants and no such contamination should occur.
  • In addition to the integrity testing of the distribution system, there needs to be a quality assurance audit of the monitoring system from sampling through analysis to verification of results, reporting and the maintenance of the data base.
  • Whilst chlorination is still in use and after the above operations are successfully completed and the security (with respect to the ingress of pollution) of the systems is confirmed, flushing should be undertaken. If there is evidence of strong biofilm growth in the mains then swabbing or air scouring may be required. The system could then be returned to chlorine free operation on a trial basis, whilst undertaking regular and detailed monitoring for HTP counts. Some monitoring of opportunistic pathogens such as those suggested by Water Futures would be desirable.
  • A more rigorous monitoring system is required for residual disinfection free systems, with an emphasis on HTP counts for operational control, with some opportunistic pathogen sampling for system verification. This additional; monitoring would probably cost less than the cost of chlorination.

4 comments:

Ross Parisi said...

All this is well and good politics and let us all hope that people pressure ultimately prevails.

But the facts are salient. The Bligh Government is determined and indeed legislated that all water supplies not only be chlorinated but ultimately FLUORIDATED.

The Regional Council has no choice really other than to implement Government edict.

Candid Kamara said...

"Former Douglas Shire Mayor Mike Berwick and Division 10 Councillor Julia Leu invited the Bursill to independently review the water system...". Yeah, independently....right....

Leu and Berwick paid for Bursill to come up to FNQ and they're all old mates - he's hardly going to then say: "Yep, chlorine's your only answer". It's obvious what he was going to report - but still he couldn't get away from the fact that chlorine must be used for now. And check out Water Futures' report. The only true independent report....Interesting reading.

I've got an 86yo nan living in Port Douglas and I can tell you that I'm telling her to drink bottled water every day until they chlorinate - E.coli is not a laughing matter - it kills.

So, tree-huggers, take a step back from the bark, and if you're ok with the possibility of someone you know getting E.coli and dying, then please continue with this wasted effort. Otherwise, let the people in the know get on with their job.

The water supply has got prawns, bat poo and other disgusting things in it which can make you sick - why would Qld Health be asking CRC to chlorinate other than to protect human health. Get real, people.

Roisin Alllen said...

In response to Candid Kamara, the community in Douglas paid for Don Bursill to come to this area and give an independent review of the situation. I understand that nearly $500 was raised on the day of the public meeting in Port Douglas.

Apart from that, this community has a right to get an independent assessment of the water problem and if the findings (from Don Bursill) aren't to your liking or go against your opinion then so be it.

Don Bursill also agreed that chlorine should be used at the moment until the system CAN be fixed.
He did believe, however, that it could be fixed!

Perhaps you should avail yourself of a copy of his complete report. It is available on the Friends of Douglas Shire web site.

So I really don't see your point. The people of this community are simply seeking a solution to the current problem because they care a great deal for their clean, unchlorinated water supply.

Colin said...

i sincerely hope these people are going to pay for their chemical-free system themselves. i don't want to have to pay for their loopy choices through my rates.

and i hope in the meantime they have personally indemnified the council against any action for compensation following the inevitable case of poisoning from their filthy water supply.

tourists should also be warned to stay out of the town until there is a satisfactory supply of clean and healthy drinking water.