Recent water and sewerage infrastructure upgrades in one Aboriginal community

NEW SOUTH WALES ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES WATER AND SEWERAGE PROGRAM
Improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people living in discrete communities by providing safe and effective water and sewerage services
W Henderson, P Byleveld, J Standen, S Leask

The New South Wales Aboriginal Communities Water and Sewerage Program aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people living in discrete communities by providing safe and effective water and sewerage services that are equivalent to the standard expected in the wider community. 

Aboriginal people are disadvantaged in health outcomes. Before the commencement of the Program in 2008, Local Aboriginal Land Councils were responsible for the water and sewerage infrastructure on their land. Most had small populations, could not generate sufficient income and lacked technical skills to sustain services. 

These arrangements presented a number of difficulties, especially for very small communities that are a long way from service providers. There was no systematic process to address operation and maintenance. In some Aboriginal communities, water and sewerage services did not meet general community standards. Inadequate water supply and sewerage systems were identified as a major factor in the poor health status of some Aboriginal communities. Where contamination was found, often there was no option other than to issue a boil water alert to communities. 

The Program is a joint initiative of NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the NSW Government. More than $200 million is being invested over 25 years for routine operation, maintenance, monitoring, repairs and replacement of infrastructure.
Key points include:

  • More than 6,000 people in 61 communities are receiving improved water and sewerage services;
  • Aboriginal communities participate in developing management plans, meetings and regular inspections;
  • Local water utilities (councils) are engaged to provide services to nearby Aboriginal communities;
  • Regular monitoring to ensure water quality is maintained and improved;
  • The Program provides employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people.


Under the Program, experienced service providers are contracted to provide support to communities. The service providers bring their expertise and experience to the Program and take responsibility for the day-to-day operation and maintenance activities. The Program is managed by the Department of Primary Industries Water and overseen by a steering committee. 

Engagement with the community is central to the Program. Consultation meetings between community members, Local Aboriginal Land Councils, DPI Water, Public Health Units and utilities/councils were held to examine infrastructure, identify issues and discuss actions to be taken to maintain and improve water and sewerage services.

Pull-quote

Risk-based water and sewerage management plans have been implemented for each community, based on the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines ‘Framework for Management of Drinking Water Quality’. 

The Program provides services to more than 6,000 people in 61 eligible communities. Implementation of management plans has improved understanding and control of risks, resulting in safer, more reliable operation of water and sewerage systems. Management plans were in place for many Aboriginal communities well before this was required of water utilities by the Public Health Act 2010

The Program provides a mechanism to address longstanding operation and maintenance issues that put the health of communities at risk. As a result, Aboriginal communities are now benefiting from improved water and sewerage services.

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