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Wangkatjungka Community sounds alarm over water quality

Giovanni Torre -

Residents of Wangkatjungka community, 130km south-east of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia's Kimberley region, have taken to social media to raise concerns about the quality of the drinking water in the area.

An image shared earlier this month by one resident showed a bowl of light brown tap water containing sediments.

Vanessa Smith wrote: "This is what people are drinking out in Wangkatjungka."

"Just filled this plate from my kitchen sink and this is dirt. I had to put it on social media just to get attention to whoever got any concerns. This is not good at all due to health wise," she said.

"This has been happening for a very, very long time in this community, something needs to be done ASAP. I think the whole community water pipes need upgrades.

"Time to buy water from the shop. Can't trust what's in this water now."

Last Wednesday Water Corporation issued a precautionary boil water alert in Wangkatjungka "following unauthorised entry to a water tank".

A spokesperson for the Water Corporation told National Indigenous Times that while work was underway to address the matter the community needed to boil and then cool all water for drinking, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation until it could be confirmed to be safe. The alert was lifted on Saturday, 21 October.

The spokesperson said that "with the exception of any temporary boil water alerts", such as that issued on 18 October, "the drinking water in Wangkatjungka is safe to drink".

"This temporary discolouration in the supply was caused by traces of naturally-occurring iron, not dirt, in the local groundwater source, as is commonly found in groundwater across WA. The iron can make its way into pipes and settle, sometimes making the water look discoloured, but it is harmless and the water is safe to use," they said.

"Discoloured water events can happen at any time but are often the result of a change in the water pipes, such as a sudden increase in the rate or direction of water flow, that can stir up this naturally-occurring sediment, causing it to become suspended in the water.

"On this occasion, work undertaken on the Wangkatjungka supply scheme on 10 October 2023 required water to be flushed through the pipe network, resulting in this temporary discolouration. Temporary discolouration in the community is also associated with regular flushing to proactively prevent the build-up of iron in the pipes. Running a tap for two minutes can help clear any discolouration caused by this routine maintenance."

Water Corporation assumed responsibility on 1 July this year for the delivery of water and wastewater services to Wangkatjungka and 140 other Aboriginal communities. It had previously been the responsibility of the Department of Communities.

Representatives from the Corporation have met the Wangkatjungka Community Council chief executive and have begun working to identify potential options to improve the community's long-term water supply.

The Water Corporation said that it will work in partnership with communities to conduct "a comprehensive assessment of the local supply scheme" to better understand their individual requirements, as part of "a detailed planning and design process".

The Water Corporation's new Aboriginal Communities Water Services (ACWS) program will conduct the work to "provide safer and more reliable drinking water and wastewater services, helping enhance long-term health and wellbeing outcomes".

In September, Mowanjum, near Derby, became the first community in WA to receive improved water infrastructure under ACWS following completion of upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant, becoming the state's first licensed plant in an Aboriginal community.

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