Is our town water safe to drink at all times? Friends of the Earth Kuranda has been investigating this question for several years and we remain unconvinced.
The water for both Kuranda and Mareeba is sourced from the Barron river with ever changing water conditions. In contrast, Cairns water is sourced from Lake Morris which is a fairly stable water source, the catchment area being relatively pristine rainforest. There is no agricultural run off or other human impacts.
Yet the Barron acts as a drain for all sorts of human activities. There are speed boats on Tinaroo, diesel and petrol pumps all along the waterways. There is sewage run off. A gold mining history along the Clohesy River, which runs into the Barron, adds a risk of arsenic and mercury contamination. There are unlined old community dump sites along rivers and creeks.
And of course a largely unmonitored cocktail of synthetic pesticides, fungicides, fertilisers and herbicides is used each year in the catchment and still others, now banned, persist in the soil from decades before. Literally hundreds of different chemicals are in use, each with different breakdown products of varying persistence. When the rains come, these are flushed from the land surface into the river.
Some of these chemicals can accumulate in the body and disrupt hormones in humans. Others contain heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury which can lead to premature aging and nerve damage.
We understand that filtering arrangements for the drinking water supply in Kuranda and Mareeba are not designed to remove these chemicals. This water is tested just twice a year by council for what they say is “ a full suite of tests”. We have asked repeatedly for a list of what is being tested for and for the results .So far we have not had access to this data though Council will, apparently, be putting these results on its website in the near future.
Sunwater, an irrigation water supplier, essentially deals with the same water as raw Kuranda and Mareeba water, but gives no guarantees to customers regarding the quality of the water. In fact it sends out disclaimers about possible toxicity due to blue green algae and says the water is used at everyone’s own risk.
In conclusion, we believe that current drinking water arrangements for Kuranda and Mareeba are unsatisfactory. We do not believe that Council can reasonably guarantee that the tap water in Kuranda and Mareeba meets Australian Drinking Water Guidelines at all times.
At the very least we believe the Council and State Government should follow duty of care and warn residents, so they can choose to filter or buy drinking water in order to be assured of safety.
It is high time that we cleaned up our rivers and catchment areas. We need sustainable agricultural and land management practices that do not pollute our rivers – and we need town water supplies of unquestionable quality (which may involve sourcing some town water supplies in other ways).
The Barron River is the lifeblood of this region and its community. We need a healthy river that does not pollute the downstream environment – ultimately the Coral Sea and reef.
That’s a big job, but it can be done,. The transformation of the Rhine and Danube in Europe, once heavily polluted but now cleaned up, show what’s possible with the necessary political will.
We believe the community is entitled to access all the relevant information from Council and the State Government who should cooperate in good faith to ensure our drinking water is safe and our river unpolluted. We invite others in this area to become involved in this important issue too. Please email email@example.com for further information or find out more about Friends of the Earth Australia’s pesticides and toxic chemicals campaign and see the National Pollutant Inventory for information about registered sources of pollution close to you.