Image for Pioneer folk wonder if TasWater’s WorkSafe Tasmania Award is a joke ...

On the eve of Pioneer’s third ‘anniversary’ living with lead-contaminated drinking water, TasWater pockets the WorkSafe Tasmania Award (and $5000, TT here: Tas Water makes a splash at state safety awards ).

Thank you, Mr Gutwein, for your media release to announce this prize. Well deserved, I’m sure …

Minister Gutwein is the Treasurer of Tasmania and the Minister for Local Government.  He is the second-most senior Minister in the Tasmanian government.  But in mid-2015, Ben Goodsir, a senior advisor to Minister Gutwein, confirmed to me that the Minister’s office had not written to Tasmania’s local councils at LGAT, who are the sole shareholders of TasWater, nor to the Dorset council, to ask for documentary evidence of representations made to TasWater since November 2012, for, or on behalf of, Pioneer. 

Minister Gutwein, when asked In Estimates earlier this year about the leaded drinking water at Pioneer, explained: “My understanding is that TasWater needed to check the rainfall at Pioneer before proceeding …” 

Minister Gutwein repeated his explanation after Cassy O’Conner asked if this was a plausible explanation, given that two-and-a-half years had elapsed at the time of questioning. 

Minister Gutwein went on to say that he had, until this very moment, thought that the Pioneer rainwater tank remedy was complete and that Pioneer’s residents were drinking safe water.

Minister Gutwein’s colleague, Member for Bass, Sarah Courtney, had promised me to go into bat for Pioneer – she knew, but he didn’t?  But during this Estimates meeting Ms. Courtney made only one comment in relation to Pioneer, a Dorothy Dixer to Minister Gutwein, about the poor financial position of Tasmania’s councils. 

[Ms. Courtney, after my one and only telephone conversation with her earlier this year, is aware that the budget for Pioneer was set aside nearly three years ago, that the rainwater tank plan is by far the cheapest solution for TasWater.  MS. Courtney is aware of the super-profits of TasWater.  Ms Courtney was made aware of the detail of the problems from the point of view of Pioneer’s residents.  Ms Courtney promised to stay in communication with me, but she did not.  (But Ms Courtney did, however, deliver a complimentary Australian flag to the nearby Moorina Golf Club.)] 

In the same Estimates meeting this year, Mr Craig Farrell remained conspicuously silent, even though he had personally advised the parliament, in early 2013, that TasWater were advised that, there were not any legal or legislative impediments to delay the roll-out of rainwater tanks at Pioneer. 

Also in this Estimates meeting, leader of the Tasmanian Labor Party, Minister Bryan Green, said nothing to assist Cassy O’Connor’s questioning of Minister Gutwein – except to make a cheap party-political remark.  Lara Giddings made one comment, to say that Cassy O’Connor’s question seemed valid. 

The Speaker indicated that he wished to block Cassie O’Connor’s question in the first place, but he eventually admitted the question as relevant to Estimates.

In an Estimates meeting with Premier Hodgman that same week, a question about Pioneer from MLC Tania Rattray was judged not to be relevant.  No further discussion was allowed.

During a third Estimates meeting that same week, with Minister Ferguson, the Minister’s explanation for Pioneer’s ongoing lack of access to safe drinking water was: “TasWater have not received signed contracts from Pioneer’s residents”. 

Tasmanian Times readers may recall reading about Minister Ferguson’s lack of interest in Pioneer’s crisis so far, and residents at Pioneer would be keen to correct Minister Ferguson on his explanation during this Estimates meeting.  If Minister Ferguson (or any other member of the State government) ever visits Pioneer, we might reply:

No person can sign a contract that they have not received.


Furthermore, we might add: 

When a citizen here does receive a contract, and signs, he /she can do nothing to force TasWater to co-sign that contract to make it active – TasWater sits on contracts like there is no tomorrow. 

One-hundred-and-eighty tomorrow’s later, Premier Hodgman continues to ignore (other than an official acknowledgement of letter received) multiple written requests to his office for a parliamentary inquiry into TasWater’s handling of Pioneer – these written requests were submitted to the Premier’s office in April and May this year.

As of today, on the eve of our third anniversary of leaded drinking water, only half of Pioneer’s residents have received their rainwater tank – safe drinking water - from TasWater. 

Please allow me to briefly note here the details about the ongoing problems and delay at Pioneer …

For Pioneer, TasWater continues to employ only one part-time engineer to draw plans for homes within a lead-contaminated water system. 

Residents at Pioneer continue to be threatened with the prospect of a debt collection agency if they do not pay for their lead-contaminated water and the associated ‘service charge’.

Several new rainwater tank installations by TasWater have been made to very suspect roofing – full of rust, and flaking with paint – but TasWater’s Communications Manager, Ms Sophie Murphy, last week sought to assure me that this practice is okay, since these roofs were tested by TasWater for lead paint.

When I questioned Ms. Murphy further, she could not tell me if a protocol has been devised by TasWater to test drinking water quality in individual homes following the installation of rainwater tanks.  On this question, one highly relevant to all homes at Pioneer, particularly those with poor roofs, Ms. Murphy was rather evasive, citing individual contract confidentiality as a reason she would not discuss the issue further. 

Furthermore, TasWater’s previous promise to flush hot water cylinders of their build-up of lead, has not been honoured.

There also seems to be some question over the type of pipes used during installations of rainwater tanks at Pioneer.  Many homes require water to sit ‘charged’ under the ground in pipes between each rainfall, but TasWater, in the first round of ten installations, used PVC pipes designed for stormwater run-off.  These pipes are not rated for potable water (ie. to hold drinking water).  In the second round of eight installations, a different PVC pipe was used by TasWater – a ‘pressurised PVC’ pipe.  I understand the rating for the two pipes is different, due to the different composition.  In my own case (I received my rainwater tank three weeks ago) I insisted on a 90mm blue-stripe irrigation pipe, designed for potable water.  I wonder why this pipe wasn’t used for all installations at Pioneer?  And what is the reason for the change in piping between Round 1 and Round 2, anyway? 

A few months prior to the installation of my own rainwater tank, TasWater’s General Manager of Works Delivery, Doctor Dharma Dharmabalan, visited my property with two other TasWater employees.  During my discussion with Dr Dharmabala about the Australian Health Guidelines for lead, presently set at 10 ug/L, Dr Dharmabalan, in what I felt was a very odd comment, sought to ease my concerns by citing the United States’ health guideline for lead, which is 15 ug/L. 

In respect to the two contracts provided to Pioneer’s residents by TasWater – at least one contract of which must be signed before the resident receives safe drinking water – residents are dubious.  But a confidentiality clause means that many residents, including myself, are no longer at liberty to discuss the details of these contracts in public.  To receive safe drinking water, one must sign.

The Pioneer dam has been decommissioned due to a leak, and TasWater have installed holding tanks.  But there is nothing coming into those tanks.  Indeed, the residents who received their individual rainwater tanks in Round 2 were told, at the time of installation, several months ago, not to fill their fire tank because of the low reserves at the Dam site.  At least one resident in Pioneer cannot fill their fire-fighting tank to this day, because his reticulated service was cut off.  This resident has received no reply to his question in several weeks.  I am unaware of how many other Pioneer residents are in the same position, as the bushfire season approaches.

Perhaps the most amazing position of TasWater and the CEO, Mike Brewster, is to deny the key finding of MacQuarie University’s 2015 study into Pioneer’s lead-contaminated drinking water.  MacQuarie University’s key finding was that the lead contamination in Pioneer’s drinking water originates, not from a natural source, but solely from TasWater’s pipes: PVC street pipes, and old pipes from the Moorina Power Station, which delivered water to Pioneer Dam prior to 2009.  [A Right to Information request in 2013 (Kim Booth) revealed that results for lead in and around Pioneer Dam ranged between 500 ug/L and 1650 ug/L.]

Pioneer’s residents continue to wonder if there is any prospect that our town may receive, following the completion of TasWater’s rainwater tank program, water from the Ringarooma Valley treatment plant, when it reaches our neighbour, Winnaleah, at the end of 2016.  Or else, if we may be hooked-in from the Frome Dam (as occurred historically), but this time using the Winnaleah Irrigation Scheme’s infrastructure, via our other neighbours at Herrick …

Alas, the factual details of the many delays, problems and injustices experienced at Pioneer, working towards endangering the health of our community, seem to be of minor consequence to TasWater. 

For the good of us all, perhaps it will one day dawn, upon a future Tasmanian State government, to follow through with a parliamentary inquiry into TasWater and Tasmania’s local councils?

Anyway – on this the eve of Pioneer’s third anniversary of lead-contaminated drinking water in the home, many thanks to the Tasmanian State government and to Minister Gutwein for their media release yesterday, to share the good news, that TasWater have pocketed the prize for this year’s WorkSafe Tasmania Awards.

Good luck, fellow Tasmanians.

PS:

With regard to the proposal for a real-time website to publish Tasmania’s drinking water data, the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) have not yet found the time or resources to lobby the Tasmanian State government by written letter. 

Following the unanimous motion by local councils at LGAT’s AGM earlier this year, in favour of lobbying the State government to legislate for a real-time website to publish Tasmania’s drinking water data, it is the responsibility of LGAT to lobby the Tasmanian State government as a matter of urgency.

TasWater: Celebrating success at WorkSafe Awards

• (Dr) Alison Bleaney in Comments: … while still paying full reticulated water supply bills. Does this process seem fair and reasonable, let alone safe? Would you have complete trust in TasWater to ensure that they have your best interests at heart?

• Tim Slade in Comments: 2.  This overblown $ figure, Ben, you then use as the foundation of your comment that ‘pensioners, sole parents and the unemployed [will be] paying for it’.  You are obviously not familiar with Pioneer, where house prices are the cheapest in Australia - bar none.  The people who live here either grew up in the area or have moved here for affordable housing.  We all know how expensive it is to rent a home now.  And house prices are out of reach for a great many.  The majority here at Pioneer are indeed pensioners, sole parents and the unemployed - the same folk who you feign concern for in your comments - so long as they don’t live at Pioneer.  We are a real group of people.  And to say we are following ‘lifestyles’ is ignorant in the extreme.  And more than a little bit funny ...

Anthony Amis, Friends of the Earth: A Snapshot of Tasmanian Non-Microbiological Detections in Drinking Water July 2013-June 2014. Selected Breaches of Australian Drinking Water Guidelines