Remote area water fails quality tests

May 7, 2015

The State Government has failed thousands of Aboriginal people by not delivering safe water to dozens of remote communities, WA's peak Aboriginal health body says.

 

An Auditor-General's report into power, water and wastewater services to 84 remote WA communities found drinking water at 68 failed to meet Australian standards.

 

At least one community failed a drinking water quality test every month in the two years to June 2014 because it had E. Coli bacteria or Naegleria microbes, which can both cause fatal illnesses.

 

Two communities had levels of nitrates deemed dangerous for adults and four exceeded safe levels of uranium in their water.

 

Auditor-General Colin Murphy, who visited 27 remote communities for the audit, said power and water supplies to the communities were generally reliable.

 

Drinking water quality was by far the biggest concern.

 

"In every month of the two-year period that we looked at, at least one community failed to reach Australian standards," Mr Murphy said.

 

"The risks are really high. These are not minor issues of taste or cloudiness. There are actually serious health risks."

 

Aboriginal Health Council of WA chairwoman Michelle Nelson-Cox said the report was a damning assessment of the Government's performance in looking after people.

 

She said many West Australians were led to believe problems in Aboriginal communities could be solved only by closing them but the report suggested the biggest danger to health in them was the water the Government had to provide.

 

"The State Government is obligated to provide and maintain safe drinking water to Aboriginal communities but has failed in this very basic task," Ms Nelson-Cox said.

 

The report, which comes as the Government formulates a plan for WA's 274 remote communities, also uncovered poor oversight and co-ordination of a Department of Housing program that opened it up to overpaying for services.

 

"Poor contracting means Housing is not getting full value from the program manager and its $1 million-a-year fee," the report said.

 

Housing Minister Colin Holt said his department accepted the findings and would implement the report's recommendations as part of the transition when Federal funding for municipal and essential services ran out on June 30.

 

He said water quality had improved in some communities and was tested monthly with bottled water provided when required.

 

He said the report highlighted difficulties in providing services to such remote areas and long-term reforms were needed.

 

 

 

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