In Australia, regional Departments of Health have the responsibility of monitoring the quality of the public water supply to ensure your tap water meets the enforceable standards as laid out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. They check all tap water has been treated, which means that while your tap water may not be entirely contaminant-free, it shouldn’t contain a level of contamination that could pose a threat to human health. Water utility companies must follow upwards of 250 rigorous guidelines. In the event your utility company becomes aware of potential contamination, the supplier must inform consumers of the potential risks and suggest alternative ways to get drinking water.
What defines safe drinking water?
According to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG), safe drinking water is a supply that does not exceed pre-defined levels of specific pollutants such as heavy metals, nitrates and pathogens, making it safe for human consumption. The Public Health Act 2010 calls on all drinking water suppliers to carry out quality assurance tests on a routine basis. If you want information on the quality of your local drinking water, you can request the water testing results.
Where in Australia is tap water unsafe to drink?
1. New South Wales
A 2016 Macquarie University study suggested some Australians are at risk of consuming hazardous levels of lead from their tap water. However, while the levels of lead exceed the acceptable limits as laid out in the ADWG, it appears the issue lies with the domestic fixtures rather than the water supply itself. The findings illustrate the risk of water contamination coming from the materials you use at home and at work, with brass fittings contaminating drinking water with dangerous levels of lead.
2. Warragamba Catchment, New South Wales
The Warragamba Dam is the biggest metropolitan water reservoir in Australia. A recent audit discovered that the regional EPA is not regulating water pollution to a satisfactory level. The report recommends the EPA and Water NSW need to collaborate to protect Sydney’s municipal water supply from pollution as an independent review of the water highlighted rising salinity in the supply. There are suggestions the pollution results from local mining activity disposing of large volumes of saline wastewater into the catchment.
3. Meekatharra, Western Australia
This small township that lies 700km north-east of Perth is struggling with high levels of nitrates in its tap water supply. Nitrates can affect blood oxygen levels and are particularly damaging to infants, which is why Western Australia’s Water Corporation has advised babies under the age of three months avoid the region’s tap water, altogether.
Contamination at a local level can take place
Incidents of water contamination are low across Australia. However, contamination at a local level can happen as pollutants and bacteria find their way into the water supply — often from unlikely sources as happened with the PFA contamination scandal. The key takeaway is that localised contamination is an ever-present risk. By staying aware of regional water alerts, you’ll be first to know should your local tap water supply become unsafe.