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Water & Sanitation

Brown Water Is Running Through the Taps of This Australian Town


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The picturesque town of Lithgow in New South Wales is home to World Heritage listed national parks, broad sweeping valleys and historical and cultural museums. 

For the past few months, however, the idyllic town has been plagued by recurring water disasters — including days-long water outages and sporadic occurrences of black and brown running water. The crisis reached a turning point Wednesday after a local mother’s video showing dirty water spewing out of a tap into her young daughter’s bath went viral. 

"I had actually started running the bath, and the water was clear," Michelle Potts told nine.com.au. "I turned away to start undressing my daughter, and out of the corner of my eye, I see black. It looked like Coke, that is how dark the colour of the water was. It was just gross."

In late December, raging bushfires swept across the outskirts of Lithgow’s town centre.

The fires, which claimed five properties on the town's exterior, strained the area’s water system as firefighters struggled to put out the flames. As a result, one of the main water pipes connected to a nearby reservoir burst, causing widespread water outages. 

Residents claim the burst pipe is simply the latest issue for the town’s continuously failing water infrastructure.   

In an online petition to fix Lithgow’s water, resident Macgregor Ross called on state and federal ministers to urgently step up and address the broken system.

"Lithgow's water infrastructure is continually breaking down and water outages are occurring more and more frequently. Continually patching up one part of the system only leads to a break down in another part of the system,” Ross said in the petition. “We, the undersigned residents of Lithgow, call on both our local state and federal members, and the governments they serve on, to provide the necessary funds to rebuild Lithgow's failing water delivery system.” 

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Director of Water and Wastewater at Lithgow City Council Daniel Buckens said the dirty water is caused by iron and manganese sediment. He has assured residents that while it looks bad, the dirty water isn't harmful.  

Buckens confessed, however, that he is unsure why the town continues to see such widespread water issues.

"The dirty water issue is something that we are still trying to come to grips with at the moment. It's not isolated, it's widespread. When we get complaints, we get staff out, and in a lot of instances we haven't been able to find anything,” he told nine.com.au. "It shouldn't have lasted this long. We have turned the system over pretty much every day and a half, so everything that was in there should have been flushed out.”

Buckens said the next step in the council’s plan to address the water issues is to use smart technology inside the town’s pipes, which will allow the council to identify leaks, access damage and accurately examine water levels.