Politicians have claimed the standard of drinking water in Australia’s biggest city is set to fall and experts warn we won’t be able to tell by taste alone.
Earlier this week, WaterNSW confirmed six jobs had been axed from its supply operations, including four senior scientists who took voluntary redundancies.
The move saw Labor water spokesman Mick Vietch claim Sydney did not need another 1998 water quality saga, when a number of people fell ill because of contamination by microscopic pathogens, such as cryptosporidium and giardia.
“This regime was put in place, with scientists of this calibre, to ensure that that doesn’t happen again,” Mr Veitch said.
While WaterNSW and the NSW government played down the claims made by Mr Veitch, experts indicated that if the quality or safety of drinking water did change you probably wouldn’t be able to tell by taste.
That’s because there is sometimes a difference in the best-tasting water and the best quality water, from a scientific testing standpoint, Australia’s peak urban water industry body says.
“Taste, along with appearance and odour are useful indicators of drinking water quality because they are often how customers judge water quality,” Water Services Association of Australia executive director Adam Lovell told The New Daily.
“But they are not necessarily a sign that water is unsafe or safe to drink,” Mr Lovell said.
Water is made safe to drink by up to 32 different added chemicals.
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG), last amended in 2011, provide the “authoritative reference to the Australian community and the water supply industry on what defines safe, good quality water”.
The areas that the guidelines are measured against include microbial quality, physical and chemical properties, radiological quality and monitoring practices.
Within the guidelines, there are 32 different chemicals approved for Australian water treatment plants to add to water (see graphic below).
Mr Lovell said that nearly every source of drinking water in Australia changed depending on season, temperature and rain, and that overall our water supplies were among the best quality in the world.
The latest water quality reports from state and territory bodies examined by The New Daily found that they all complied at near-perfect levels with national guidelines set out in federal legislation.
Where does the water taste best?
An organisation representing water industry operators in Australia recently named what it judged to be the best-tasting areas and towns for drinking water throughout the country.
In its 2015 competition, the Water Industry Operators Association of Australia (WIOA) named five water providers who it judged to have the best-tasting water.
The winning providers included water operators and treatment bodies encompassing states, councils and cities across Australia.
The water providers with the best-tasting water in Australia, according to WIOA were:
|Water Provider||Treatment Facility||State|
|Orange City Council||Icely Road WTP||NSW|
|Richmond Shire Council||Richmond WTP||Queensland|
|AllWater||Happy Valley WTP||South Australia|
|Goulburn Valley Water||Marysville WTP||Victoria|
WIOA did not gather data for Western Australia, the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory, however each of those areas reported comprehensively satisfactory compliance results with Australian guidelines in their latest water quality reports.
The fluoride debate
Australia has been adding fluoride to its water supplies since the 1960s and 1970s. It does not affect the taste of the water.
Advocates for the fluoridation of water supplies argue that its addition aids in fighting tooth decay in the wider population.
The Federal Department of Health insisted on its website that: “The most up-to-date evidence confirms fluoride in the water system is safe and effective for people of all ages.”
It cited that the University of Adelaide’s Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health established in its position paper that fluoride is safe in drinking water.