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Elevated arsenic levels detected in NSW town’s water

Popular tourist destination Uralla in New South Wales (NSW) has been quieter in recent weeks with reports of arsenic in the town’s drinking water keeping visitors away.

Residents were already dealing with the impacts of local bushfires and drought when they were alerted to increased levels of arsenic in their water supply, Kentucky Dam, in December.

Routine testing showed levels of 0.04 mg/L, which is above the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) limit of 0.01 mg/L. 

Uralla Shire Council is still investigating the cause, but said it was most likely due to reduced water levels in Kentucky Dam, resulting in higher than usual concentrations of arsenic going through the treatment plant.

There is currently a do not drink alert on the town’s water, with residents advised to use bottled water for drinking, food preparation, making ice, cleaning teeth and gargling. 

Town water is still safe for hand washing, showering, dishwashing, washing clothes, and to give to pets and stock. 

Free bottled water is being distributed by volunteers and council staff to residents.

Flow on effects

Uralla Shire Council held an extraordinary meeting last week to discuss actions taken to address the elevated arsenic level, along with short- and long-term supply issues.

“We need to understand where we’re up to with the process and what the implications are,” Deputy Mayor Bob Crouch said during the meeting. 

“The solution for the treatment of the arsenic in the Kentucky Dam is still under development. The supply installation of operational costs are yet to be identified.”

The council also discussed the economic impact on local businesses, many of which had to switch to an alternate water source at a peak trading time and had lost customers. 

Councillor Tara Toomey said the alert had led some travellers to rethink visiting the area.

“Considering the hard-won reputation as a food, wine, shopping and dining destination that Uralla Shire businesses have established over the years, this is an unacceptable perception that council has an obligation to proactively address,” she said.

To address this, the council voted to seek $15,000 from state and federal governments to help the town’s reputation. The funds will be used to create a map promoting the town’s businesses, employ a travel writer to create content, and develop a video for social media to promote Uralla as a destination.

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