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Mobile desal plants to treat brackish water in regional NSW

Brewarrina Shire Council (BSC) in north-west New South Wales has installed a mobile desalination plant to provide more palatable water for residents.

The town sources its water from a weir on the Barwon River, which has seen extremely low inflows over the past six years. While the water is treated at a local plant, Mayor Phillip O’Connor said the process couldn’t remove the high sodium content that resulted from a lack of water in the system.

While authorities have assured residents their tap water is safe to drink, some locals have turned to bottled water rather than consume the brackish water.

The reverse osmosis water treatment station, which is located in the Brewarrina Visitor Information Centre car park, will filter water from the town’s treatment plant. It can provide up to 70,000 L of drinking water per day, which residents can collect in containers and take back to their homes.

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“Due to the prolonged drought conditions affecting the quality of source water from the Barwon River, in which Brewarrina’s town water is supplied, Council has been working closely with NSW DPIE [Department of Planning, Industry and Environment] Water and the Minister’s office since October 2019 to install an alternate drinking water refill station,” BSC said on its Facebook page.

“Council advises, although there is an alternate supply for access to drinking water such as the refill station, the town’s filtered water supply is still safe to consume and use for all other domestic household purposes including showering and bathing.

“The town’s water supply is still sent to the Department of Analytical Laboratories in Sydney for testing weekly and to-date has had no non-compliant samples of both the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines and the NSW Health requirements.”

Brewarrina’s mobile desalination plant was originally given to Tenterfield Shire Council by charity Rural Aid. It will be used until BSC’s own unit is constructed.

Similar desalination plants will be installed in fellow Barwon-Darling River towns Bourke and Walgett, but these will be connected to the towns’ water supplies.

Both towns are forced to rely on emergency bore water when their usual river supplies run low, but testing has shown the salt in the water exceeds the aesthetic (taste) limit set out in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.