After a lead scare and a decade of temporary fixes, a tiny Tasmanian town finally got piped drinking water.
- The city’s water supply was declared undrinkable in 2012
- Some residents rely on water delivery
- The state water authority expects the new water supply to be connected by May 2023
Pioneer is a picturesque town of less than 100 people in the northeastern part of the state.
Lynette Simpson, who has lived there for the past 20 years, said she was “bloody excited” to see trucks and tradesmen digging trenches in the town’s high street.
“Carrying water without having water was difficult,” she said.
“But you know what, we’re getting water right now, and that’s all that matters to me.”
The city’s tap water was deemed unfit for drinking in 2012, and researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney later found that the infrastructure was aging. polluting the water supply.
As a solution, TasWater installed roof-top tanks for drinking rainwater across the city.
But it later emerged that the roofs of some properties had too much lead in the paint – and that the drinking water could be unsafe.
Documents obtained by ABC revealed that TasWater commissioned tests on the roof paint and should have known about the problem before installing the water tanks.
State water authorities said they misread the test results.
Some residents are using water delivered by TasWater while waiting to be connected to the mains.
Lynette Simpson said turning off the taps and having decent drinking water would be essential.
“I don’t have to go down and carry water, I don’t have to wash my hair in a bucket.”
“It will be just wonderful to stand in the shower without the pumps running all the time and increasing my electric bill.”
Douche with eyes closed
Greg Howard is the mayor of Dorset council, which includes Pioneer.
He said he suspected the city’s water supply had been contaminated for more than 10 years because it was located in a mining area with large amounts of heavy metals in the ground.
“It’s just that 10 years ago, they didn’t have to be tested,” he said.
“It’s only when there’s been a change in Australian drinking water [Guidelines] that people started testing for some of these heavy metals that were likely in a number of urban drinking water sources across the state.”
“And they were in much greater numbers in Pioneer than in most other areas.”
Local resident Harry Watson remembers receiving a brochure in the post from the public water authority, TasWater, about water use.
“It mentioned that we can shower in this water, but you have to keep your mouth and eyes closed,” he said.
“We could grow our vegetables with this water, but certainly not wash them in water before eating.”
A decade of uncertainty about whether their water is safe to drink has left some residents disillusioned with TasWater.
Mr Howard said the water authority’s decision to install rainwater tanks in response to the contaminated water supply was a “very poor choice”.
“It was a cheap option, they thought they were going to get away with a little cost instead of a decent cost, and it didn’t work,” he said.
TasWater said in a statement that cost was never an issue and at the time local residents wanted water tanks rather than pipelines.
The planning and construction of the new grid system took time, the report added.
TasWater will continue to transport treated water until the pipes are laid and the system is operational, which is expected to happen by May 2023.
Cr Howard said he was relieved to see the water pipes going into the ground and advised other regional towns struggling with water problems to be persistent.
“It’s hard to deal with big corporations, and they tend to focus on big issues in communities, which is probably understandable.”
“Voices in small country towns seem to have less voice.”