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14 years after discovering elevated uranium levels in their tap water, Laramba residents welcome new treatment plant

Giovanni Torre -

The Northern Territory government has hailed the completion of a long-awaited water treatment plant at Laramba community in Central Australia.

NT Power and Water contracted Clean TeQ Water to deliver the plant, some 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, as part of the government's $28 million program to tackle critical water supply infrastructure needs in remote Aboriginal communities.

Onsite works began in July and were completed this month. The new plant will undergo product validation and operational testing early next year then begin operating.

With a capacity of 360 kilolitres per day, the plant uses an ion-exchange resin process to reduce the amount of uranium in the community's water supply to below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines value.

Minister for Essential Services Selena Uibo said the facility has been "a long time coming for residents of Laramba".

"The Territory Labor government is committed to improving living conditions for remote Territorians, and this includes ensuring a reliable and safe supply of drinking water," she said.

Member for Gwoja Chansey Paech said people living on Country "have the same rights to safe drinking water as their urban counterparts".

"This facility is one that the people of Laramba need and it will make a significant difference in the community," he said.

"Having a reliable water supply will also open further opportunities in the area."

The plant will commence operation early next year.

Laramba residents have had uranium-contaminated tap water for well over a decade.

Since 2008 the community's more than 300 residents were aware their local bore water contained uranium but only realised the scale of the problem after NT Power and Water studied the drinking water closely in 2018.

The data compiled found there were 0.046 milligrams of uranium per litre (mg/L) in the town's water supply; almost triple the level recommended in Australia's national guidelines, which state the level should not exceed 0.017 milligrams per litre.

Later in 2018 Laramba's residents took their landlords, the NT Department of Housing, to court to argue that they had a right to safe drinking water, ultimately losing the case in July, 2020, before the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The tribunal member presiding over the case, Mark O'Reilly, said the uranium in the water was not the responsibility of the landlord, and this finding was upheld on appeal.

In May this year Central Lands Council chief executive Lesley Turner told The Guardian that Laramba residents "are some of Australia's poorest people, forced to shell out $12 for a box of safe drinking water that barely fills a few billies each".

"We have been told the community will receive free, uncontaminated water at some stage, but the residents need urgent answers about when this will start," he said.

In March 2022 Clean TeQ Water signed a $5m contract to build the ion-exchange water filtration system for the community, which was announced to the ASX in May.

Chief executive, Willem Vriesendorp, said in the ASX statement that the company was "excited to be working with NT Power and Water to provide better water quality to remote communities".

"We hope this to be the first of multiple contracts with Power and Water as they look to upgrade the water infrastructure in remote towns in the Northern Territory," he said.

NT Power and Water have identified nine remote communities in the Territory with tap water that had levels of uranium, manganese and fluoride that surpassed guidelines.


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